Zuckerberg hosts conservatives at Facebook HQ amid charges of bias

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Prominent conservatives met Wednesday afternoon with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as he looked to address fears that the social network has downplayed conservative stories and news sources.

Zuckerberg said in a post following the meeting that he knows that “many conservatives don’t trust that our platform surfaces content without a political bias.”

“I wanted to hear their concerns personally and have an open conversation about how we can build trust,” he said. “I want to do everything I can to make sure our teams uphold the integrity of our products.” 

{mosads}Attendees met with Zuckerberg as well as Joel Kaplan, the company’s vice president for global public policy and a former official in George W. Bush’s White House, at the company’s headquarters Menlo Park, Calif. They were joined by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Peter Thiel, a member of Facebook’s board who is on presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s slate of delegates in California.

Visitors and their staff were also able to attend a training session on how to use Facebook to communicate publicly, take a tour of the company’s sprawling headquarters and try out the virtual reality technology being developed by Facebook subsidiary Oculus.

A range of conservative political and media figures attended the meeting. Barry Bennett represented Trump’s campaign, where he is a senior adviser. Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, also attended. 

Both pundits and publishers represented conservative media at the meeting. CNN’s S.E. Cupp, Fox News’ Dana Perino and radio host Glenn Beck were all at the meeting. So was Jonathan Garthwaite, the general manager of several conservative websites, including the popular RedState. 

A person familiar with the meeting said Zuckerberg let the discussion, which was scheduled to last an hour, run for closer to 90 minutes. Attendees noshed on fruit and cheese while speaking with the Facebook executives about a controversy that has put Facebook on the defensive.

Brent Bozell, who attended as the president of the Media Research Center, said the meeting included a “healthy exchange.” 

“A lot of things were stated,” he said. “It was forceful but not contentious.”

Jenny Beth Martin, who leads the Tea Party Patriots, said the executives walked them through the trending topics process, which has been a point of strife among conservatives who suspect Facebook has been weeding out certain subjects.

“They were going through how they handle the trending topics and asking us what within of it and how can we make this better,” Martin said, adding that there was also discussion of Facebook’s News Feed feature.

Bozell said he came away with the impression that Facebook wanted to be on good terms with conservatives.

“We thought it was productive, it was helpful,” he said. “It was honest on the part of Facebook. Facebook understands clearly that there’s a problem, and I think Facebook is clearly wanting to solve the problem.”

But Bozell said he would watch to see how the company’s investigation into the allegations progresses.

Bozell said his “B.S. meter didn’t go up” during the conversation with the executives, and he said it was a good sign that Facebook had reached out — something, he said, other Silicon Valley companies haven’t done.
“They didn’t have to have this,” he said. “These issues have arisen with other entities, like YouTube, and I don’t see YouTube having meetings.”
Cupp called the meeting “very productive” on Twitter and touted strong “commitments to address issues, as well as to work together on common goals.”
More than one attendee described Facebook’s welcome as warm.

“I found him to be genuine, personable,” David Bozell, who leads the conservative group ForAmerica and is Brent Bozell’s son, said of Zuckerberg.

Facebook’s outreach even had a personal touch. Martin said that she mentioned to representatives from the company how local groups affiliated with her organization sometimes feel slighted by the way Facebook handles their content and groups. 

“More than one person, not just in the meeting but after the meeting, said, ‘Let’s keep talking. If you’ve got specific examples or specific groups that are having issues, let’s see if we can solve those,'” she said.

Some conservatives turned downed the invitation. Matt Schlapp, who chairs the American Conservative Union, said the group wouldn’t attend the meeting because a single session wouldn’t resolve all of the issues the group had with Facebook.

Erick Erickson, best known as the former editor of RedState, said he couldn’t attend but still thought the meeting was a good step. 

Facebook’s troubles began last week, when Gizmodo published a report quoting a former editor for the trending topics section who said colleagues had omitted stories and topics popular with conservatives from the feature.

The trending list is produced by editors, called “curators,” who process a list of topics and stories generated by an algorithm. 

The report prompted outrage among many conservatives. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) wrote a letter to Zuckerberg last week asking questions about the feature, and other lawmakers have also expressed concerns. 

The company has responded with a barrage of public statements from executives who have more than once said they have found “no evidence” to support the allegations. They also released the guidelines that were given to editors for the trending topics section.

Brent Bozell said he hopes the meeting was a first step toward improving relationships between the social network, which has more than 1.6 billion monthly active users, and the right.
“In one meeting we weren’t going to conquer Rome,” he said.
— Updated at 11:15 p.m.
Tags Donald Trump Facebook John Thune media

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