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It’s getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that social media has a political bias problem. At one time, it was possible for the big social media companies to blame the algorithms, but that’s simply not possible any longer. It’s clear that the founders and backers of big Silicon Valley companies have a political agenda, and they are using Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as tools to accomplish that agenda.
How political bias works on social media
Think about it for a moment – if certain topics are trending on Twitter, if certain videos are being recommended to you on YouTube, if certain types of stories keep popping up in your Facebook feed, and if certain results are appearing at the top of any Google search results – won’t that influence how you think? Yet, you probably won’t even think twice about it as you go about your busy daily routine because you’ve been told to trust our good friends at Facebook and Google.
The problem of political bias is nothing new. It dates all the way back to the first talk of the “filter bubble” on social media, which is a theory that describes why we only seem to see things on social media that help to reinforce and harden our existing views. But now it is becoming more and more pronounced, mostly because the big social media companies have found out a way to “tweak” (i.e. “rig”) the algorithms in favor of causes, candidates and ideas that they believe to be correct.
How to spot the signs of political bias
Does this sound like a massive conspiracy theory? Maybe. But a lot of really smart people are trying to figure out what is really going on these days on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Why are certain channels being throttled? Why are certain accounts being deleted or frozen? Why are some topics, stories or narratives being completely ignored? Why are certain people held up as examples of whom to follow on social media but others are not? Someone is clearly making value judgments here.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz has been one of the most vocal voices at the forefront of telling people what’s wrong with social media these days. As he sees it, there is a distinct anti-conservative and anti-Republican bias to social media that is being engineered by the big social media companies. And that bias has the potential of swinging votes and getting people to buy into a view of reality that may or may not really exist.
Legal and regulatory issues raised by social media political bias
The problem is that this bias is completely against the rules of the road that the U.S. Congress has established for social media companies. Tech companies currently have legal immunity from any content published on their platforms, as the result of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. But in order to preserve this privilege, tech companies need to be a “neutral public forum.” If Facebook has a political bias, then it is no longer a neutral public forum, and it no longer deserves this legal protection. See? Facebook can’t have it both ways.
So this is about more than just whining and complaining about certain stories showing up in a Facebook or Twitter feed. It is, instead, a recognition that certain forms of censorship might exist in the digital era that did not exist 10, 15 or 20 years ago. If people creating the algorithms have political biases, is it too much to assume that the algorithms are going to have some form of political bias as well? If that’s the case – and, right now, the evidence is really starting to point in this direction – then it’s time for social media companies to review their guidelines on political biases and take the steps to avoid teaching the algorithms to have these same biases.