Facebook releases audit on conservative bias claims

Facebook on Tuesday released the findings of a long-awaited audit exploring conservatives’ suspicions that the platform is biased against right-wing voices, with the company vowing to make changes to advertising policies that affected anti-abortion rights messaging.

The study, conducted by lobbyist and former Republican Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), surveyed more than a hundred conservative figures and organizations about their views on Facebook. It found that many are concerned about the social network’s efforts to crack down on hate speech and worry that its content policies are being applied unevenly.

“As Facebook considers additional changes, we will continue to help it understand conservative perspectives,” Kyl wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Tuesday morning. “To live up to its vision as a platform for all ideas, I believe Facebook understands it must do all it can to regain the trust of conservative users.”

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Kyl’s report does not conclude one way or the other whether Facebook is censoring conservatives, as President TrumpDonald John TrumpMarine unit in Florida reportedly pushing to hold annual ball at Trump property Giuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it MORE and other GOP leaders allege and as Facebook has adamantly denied.

The allegations, which are unproven, have prompted some eye-rolling from Democrats and other tech critics.

Rashad Robinson, the president of the civil rights group Color of Change, said on Tuesday that if Facebook were to change its platform to accommodate the right-wing suspicions, it would hamper the site's ability to crack down on hate speech and other problems.

"Claims of anti-conservative bias are simply an attempt to distract users and the media from the conservative movement’s attacks against Black communities and other marginalized groups," Robinson said in a statement.

The bias audit was announced last year alongside a review of Facebook's handling of civil rights. Facebook released preliminary findings of the civil rights audit earlier this year, though advocates say that the company needs to make sweeping institutional changes to address their concerns. Both audits are still ongoing.

"Facebook’s first priority should be fixing the damage it has brought to our democracy," Robinson said Tuesday. "This shameful report, coupled with the lack of meaningful, long-term civil rights infrastructure at the company, speaks volumes about Facebook’s willingness to maintain a broken business model at the expense of Black and marginalized communities."

And Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security Zuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Missouri Republican wins annual craft brewing competition for lawmakers MORE (R-Mo.), an outspoken Facebook critic, questioned the usefulness of the report.

"Merely asking somebody to listen to conservatives’ concerns isn’t an ‘audit,’ it’s a smokescreen disguised as a solution," Hawley said in a statement. "Facebook should conduct an actual audit by giving a trusted third party access to its algorithm, its key documents, and its content moderation protocols. Then Facebook should release the results to the public.”

The report touts some of the changes Facebook has made in an attempt to increase transparency and improve oversight of its content moderation.

“We know we need to take these concerns seriously and adjust course if our policies are in fact limiting expression in an unintended way,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post

The report touts some of the changes Facebook has made in an attempt to increase transparency and improve oversight of its content moderation.

In one change announced Tuesday, Facebook said it would relax a ban on advertisements featuring images of medical patients with tubes attached to them, a policy that conservatives said was being used disproportionately to target messages against abortion.

Clegg said that Kyl's team will continue their review and report again in a few months.

"This work is not an issue of personal political opinion," Clegg wrote in his blog post. "As at any large company, there is a diversity of political opinions at Facebook and plenty of people who would not describe themselves as conservatives."

"But regardless of one’s own political views, this is about whether we apply our own policies fairly to all sides, and whether those policies begin with an understanding of how core groups of users express their beliefs," he added.

—Updated at 1:52 p.m.