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Tech

No, There (Probably) Isn't a Facebook Conspiracy to Censor Conservatives

Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes was banned from Facebook for 12 hours after he wrote a politically charged post.(Fox)

photo of Brian Fung
July 2, 2013

It's fair to say Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes has a provocative side. Little did he know that Facebook would try and ban him for it.

The spat began when Starnes wrote a politically charged post on his Facebook page.

"I’m about as politically incorrect as you can get," the post read. "I’m wearing an NRA ball cap, eating a Chick-fil-A sandwich, reading a Paula Deen cookbook and sipping a 20-ounce sweet tea while sitting in my Cracker Barrel rocking chair with the Gaither Vocal Band singing ‘Jesus Saves’ on the stereo and a Gideon’s Bible in my pocket. Yes sir, I’m politically incorrect and happy as a June bug.”

 

Within hours of the post, Facebook had deleted it and blocked Starnes from the site—leading the radio host to complain that the Silicon Valley company was singling out conservatives for censorship.

On Fox and Friends, guest host Eric Bolling joined in on crying foul.

"I’m wondering if they have people specifically looking at what Todd Starnes is posting," said Bolling, "and say, ‘Hey, let’s interpret that one as violating one of our rules.'"

The policies that govern what a social networking service will take down, and under what circumstances, are infamously vague. Facebook's terms of service include a prohibition on bullying, but nobody's defined what "bullying" means. Often, individual decisions about how to handle problematic posts get made on a case-by-case basis, by fallible human beings. And in Starnes' case, that could be what happened. The company apologized to Starnes and said it "worked to rectify the mistake as soon as we were notified."

Facebook might be singling out conservatives. Occam's Razor would more plausibly suggest that trolls naturally attract the troll police, on the Right and the Left.

In fact, there's no good business reason why Facebook would ever want to discriminate politically. There would be nothing to gain from doing so. Here's why: Facebook's user base is split down the middle by ideology.

A year ago, the GOP strategist Patrick Ruffini crunched some numbers about how the country's politics were expressed online. Here's what he found: Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of Silicon Valley aren't the refuge for liberals that Starnes thinks they are. In fact, Twitter skews more Republican than Democrat.

Facebook would have a huge problem on its hands if it were, in fact, disproportionately censoring conservatives over liberals. It just doesn't make sense, particularly when the service and its key leaders have been vociferous advocates for technology as a value-neutral service.

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