Republican tech panel chair: Facebook bias issue is ‘tricky’

Republican tech panel chair: Facebook bias issue is ‘tricky’
© Greg Nash

A  Republican lawmaker who is influential on tech issues joined other members of his party Wednesday in expressing concerns about allegations that Facebook downplayed conservative content while nodding toward worries on the right about government overreach.

“I don’t want the government putting their thumb on the scale on speech but I also think it’s important to know what thumbs are being put on the scale, if there are any, by organizations that have enormous market power,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who chairs the technology subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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“It’s an issue we’re going to look at,” he said later, saying that he believed his subcommittee would have jurisdiction over the issue. A committee aide said on Tuesday that Facebook would provide a briefing on the issue.

But he also echoed the worries of some conservatives who feel it is not the government’s place to involve itself in the media’s affairs. He specifically referenced his opposition to the Fairness Doctrine, the former policy of the Federal Communications Commission mandating that broadcasters present opposing views on matters of public significance and devote some air time to those issues.

“That’s a bad path to go down, so this is a very tricky topic that I think has to be looked at carefully,” Walden said.

His answer walked a fine line between conservative outrage over the allegations about Facebook and a hesitancy among some of the right to exert oversight authority over a private company.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted about the allegations on Monday. And Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (R-S.D.) on Tuesday wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking questions about the way the "trending" topics section was run.

The source of the controversy is a Monday report from tech news site Gizmodo that anonymously quoted former “curators” for the social network’s trending section as saying the platform frequently ignored right-leaning stories and media outlets. 

A team of workers compiles the stories using an internal Facebook program that finds topics popular among users.