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Markey questions Facebook on 'failed commitment' to stop recommending political groups

Markey questions Facebook on 'failed commitment' to stop recommending political groups
© Bonnie Cash

Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyLawmakers gird for spending battle over nuclear weapons Hillicon Valley: High alert as new QAnon date approaches Thursday | Biden signals another reversal from Trump with national security guidance | Parler files a new case Senators question Bezos, Amazon about cameras placed in delivery vans MORE (D-Mass.) on Tuesday sent a letter to Facebook questioning the social media giant over reports that it has continued to recommend political groups to users despite top executives claiming the platform would stop doing so.

The senator said the recommendations carry a risk of growing “dangerous” groups that "are breeding grounds for hate, ecochambers of misinformation, and venues for coordination of violence."

Markey underscored his push for Facebook to follow through on its commitment to stop recommending political groups by noting that some groups on the platform were used to plan the deadly insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

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“Users organize and coordinate violent and anti-democratic efforts on these pages, but Facebook does not just allow these dangerous pages to exist on its platform, it recommends them to users,” Markey wrote. 

“Unfortunately, it appears that Facebook has failed to keep commitments on this topic that you made to me, other members of Congress, and your users. You and other senior Facebook officials have committed, and reiterated your commitment, to stop your platform’s practice of recommending political groups,” he added. 

In October, Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergNY Times columnist David Brooks says think-tank role 'hasn't affected' his journalism New York Times expands its live news staff Hillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships MORE told Markey at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing that the company had “taken the step of stopping recommendations in groups for all political content on social issue groups.” 

Facebook executives in a blog post on Jan. 6 stated that the company had “emergency measures in place since before the US elections like not recommending civic groups for people to join” and would be “keeping them in place.”

Despite the public commitments, a report released by The Markup last week found Facebook continued recommending political groups to users throughout December and continued to recommend political groups throughout January after its renewed promise to stop doing so. 

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Additionally, The Markup report found Facebook pushed political groups most often to supporters of former President TrumpDonald TrumpUS, South Korea reach agreement on cost-sharing for troops Graham: Trump can make GOP bigger, stronger, or he 'could destroy it' Biden nominates female generals whose promotions were reportedly delayed under Trump MORE. The report stated almost a quarter of the top 100 groups suggested to Trump voters were political. 

“These findings cast serious doubt on Facebook’s compliance with the promises you have publicly made to me and to your users,” Markey wrote. “Therefore, I request a detailed explanation of this apparent inconsistency between your commitments and your platform’s practices, as well as a detailed review of the steps you are currently taking and plan to take to stop Facebook from recommending political groups to its users.”

A Facebook spokesperson was not immediately available for comment. 

Democrats have been placing mounting pressure on social media platforms to amend their practices that lead to the growth of groups pushing hate speech and disinformation after the riot earlier this month at the Capitol. 

A group of House Democrats last week sent a letter to Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube calling for the companies to make changes to their algorithms that facilitate the spread of extremist and conspiratorial content.