The MRC's Failing War Against Facebook
The Media Research Center's narrative that Facebook is unrelentingly hostile to conservatives keeps getting undermined every time it's revealed how much Facebook is sucking up to conservatives in an attempt to respond to those attacks.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center has long been a critic of Facebook -- to the point that it has built an entire narrative around that criticism.
Over the past few years, the MRC has painted Facebook as unfriendly to conservatives to the point of censoring conservative content. Those early attacks -- which focused on exploiting allegations of bias at Facebook in its "trending news" feed -- paid off, as MRC chief Brent Bozell got himself invited to a meeting between Facebook and conservatives, after which he had to admit that Facebook didn't fit his caricature of evil (though it didn't keep him to running to Fox Business for a dose of self-aggrandizement). Bozell didn't talk about what another conservative attendee, Glenn Beck, had said about the meeting: that they were effectively demanding "affirmative action for conservatives" and treating Facebook like a witch in Salem: "Facebook, you must admit that you are screwing us, because if not, it proves you are screwing us."
The attacks ramped up again over the past year. The MRC issued a "special report" (of the not-so-special kind, one can presume) last April accusing Facebook and other social media operations of trying to "censor the conservative worldview from the public conversation." An MRC-commissioned poll in September sought to reinforce that narrative by claiming that nearly 29 percent of conservatives said they left or were considering leaving Facebook because of "censorship of conservatives." It included a quote from Bozell: "The question Facebook and other social media companies need to ask themselves is this: Do you want to be seen as an open platform for all political beliefs or would you rather be considered a left-wing public interest group that censors free speech worldwide? The latter will prove to be unbelievably costly."
But a funny thing happened: As a result of this right-wing pressure campaign, Gizmodo reported, Facebook's news feeds became swamped by items from fake news sites designed to boost Donald Trump's presidential campaign -- which led to the torrent of fake news that has plagued Facebook since -- and sources said Facebook was afraid to do anything about it at the time lest it offend Bozell's brigade again.
The MRC was certainly pleased by that outcome -- it likely helped Donald Trump get elected president -- but it's still highly invested in Facebook-hates-conservatives narrative. So you'd think it would be happy that the New York Times published an article shining a light on Facebook's dubious practices.
But, weirdly, no. A Nov. 15 MRC post by Corinne Weaver described the article (to which she curiously fails to link) as a "hit piece" that "sent Facebook into a frenzy to fix its public image." Why? Because it reported that Facebook hired a right-wing opposition research firm called Definers to investigate George Soros after he criticized Facebook.
The problem for Weaver, of course, is that the Times article completely undermined the MRC's Facebook narrative. Otherwise, she wouldn't be describing it as a "hit piece."
Weaver rather benignly described the Times article as having "accused Facebook of working with conservative groups and generating stories from a conservative angle that discredited liberal activists funded by Soros, as well as Apple, and Google." In fact, it was about much more than that: the Times detailed how Facebook failed to act on messages from Donald Trump's presidential campaign that violated its hate-speech policies, dragged its feet on Russian-related activity designed to influence the 2016 presidential election and hired Definers to deflect attention from Facebook and uncover any link between Soros and groups critical of Facebook.
Again, all that runs contrary to the MRC's narrative -- the Times article pointed out just how deeply Facebook is kowtowing to conservative critics. Needless to say, Weaver and the MRC didn't want to talk about that, and her post is the last we heard about this article.
For a while, anyway. A Dec. 3 MRC post by Julia Seymour returned to the article in a very narrow way: to insist that Facebook's investigation of Soros was totally justified. No, really:
Since when it is controversial for a company to research a powerful billionaire calling for it to be regulated and who could potentially impact its stock price? Since now if the company is Facebook and its opponent is liberal billionaire George Soros.
In fact, the Buzzfeed piece noted that the document is only some of the research the oppo-research firm did for Facebook, not its entirety.
Seymour then weirdly obsessed about Soros' past by referencing that he "broke the Bank of England" twice in her post, as if profiting from a financial gamble that anyone could have done somehow underscores Soros' bad-guy credentials. Like Weaver, Seymour didn't want to discuss how Facebook hating Soros almost as much as the MRC does (though without the overt anti-Semitic imagery it has used in the past) undercuts the MRC's attacks on Facebook as not being conservative-friendly.
That was followed by a Dec. 6 MRC piece by Alexander Hall touted how Facebook's board of directors ruled that the oppo-research operation was "entirely appropriate." Hall echoed earlier MRC complaints that Times reports about right-wing influence on Facebook were something of a hit job, emphasizing that the Times is "liberal":
Until recently, conservatives have viewed Facebook as the enforcer of the censorius left, which isn’t wrong. But after recent revelations from liberal New York Times investigative pieces, the left has openly criticized Facebook for enabling conservatives.
That's the closest Hall gets to broaching the subject of the MRC's narrative being undermined.
Hall was even more conflicted in a Dec. 13 post, railing against "biased liberal fact-checkers" leaving Facebook over the Soros attacks:
When Facebook first hired fact checkers to combat “fake news” on its platform, conservatives around the world were right to be concerned. But in light of recent revelations that Facebook funded anti-Soros research, biased liberal fact-checkers themselves are calling it quits.
Hall offered no evidence that Snopes or any of the other fact-checkers Facebook hired are "biased liberals" or, as he later claimed, "extremely biased."
Weaver fretted in a Dec. 18 post about how "the number of Facebook’s enemies on the left is growing" and was concerned that "A coalition of 31 left-wing groups, including the controversial Southern Poverty Law Center and at least 10 groups that have received funding from liberal billionaire George Soros, wrote" to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and asked for his resignation over censorship issues and permitting "bigotry and hatred towards vulnerable communities and civil rights organizations."
Isn't that the same argument the MRC has been making? Pretty much. Of course, unlike anyone on the left until very recently, MRC chief Brent Bozell got a high-profile chat with Zuckerberg over alleged bias against conservatives, and it and other conservative activists have harassed Facebook to the extent that it capitulated to its conservative-bias narrative.
But Weaver doesn't mention any of that. Instead, she continued to lament the "left-wing groups" going after Facebook.
A day later, Bozell was outraged that Facebook would even talk to liberals about bias and ranted that the company should care only about conservative gripes:
So Facebook has met with radical left-wing so-called “civil rights” organizations and is bending over backward to make changes they want. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg even declared that the “audit is deeply important to me, and it’s one of my top priorities for 2019.”
Bozell was silent about Facebook's 2016 capitulation to the demands from himself and other conservative activists. He also didn't mention how Facebook echoed another right-wing narrative by doing oppo research on Soros -- which his employees have heartily endorsed -- and how that undercuts his narrative of Facebook as a anti-conservative monolith.
Bozell also didn't explain why, if Facebook is such a hostile environment for conservatives, the MRC doesn't just quit Facebook and organize its fellow conservatives to bring their prestige to another social media platform. But then, as we've seen when the MRC complained about the deplatforming for extremist content of other social-media alternatives it refused to support, it's easier for Bozell and Co. to complain about Facebook on Facebook, even though the MRC has never faced any content-censorship issues with Facebook -- again, undercutting Bozell's censorship narrative.
The MRC's narrative crumbled further with a Jan. 8 Wall Street Journal article detailing how Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have been seeking advice from "right-leaning groups" (as well as those on the left) for guidance on handling political speech on the platforms, as well as being "receptive to behind-the-scenes lobbing" on issues.
The MRC waited two days to attack the WSJ story, and then did so only very narrowly. A Jan. 10 post by Hall focused only on a single sentence in the article that "Facebook has privately sought advice from the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian public-policy group, and its president, Tony Perkins, according to people familiar with those meetings." Hall let Perkins respond by letting him uncritically claim that he was "a bit surprised that I was described as consultant with Facebook... Now if you have a phone conversation you are a consultant. I've had one conversation with Facebook."
In fact, the article did not describe Perkins as a "consultant," only that it "sought advice" from him and the FRC. It also indicates that Facebook talked to other people at the FRC besides Perkins, which both he and Hall never confirm or deny -- presumably to not interfere with Hall's claim that Facebook "exaggerated" and was telling "fibs" about its interaction with the FRC.
Hall also falsely framed his article to suggest that the only conservative groups Facebook sought advice from are the FRC and Americans for Tax Reform, while the only liberal-leaning group it's getting advice from is the Southern Poverty Law Center. That was likely so he could assert: "However, after Perkins claims that reports of his involvement are greatly exaggerated, it's reasonable to worry the SPLC holds greater sway." That's an assertion for which has no evidence whatsoever.
But Hall's goal was to restore the conservative narrative, and he spent the remainder of his post enlisting Perkins to do just that:
Facebook has been accused by both sides of making a show of consulting them for PR purposes. In this case Perkins noted that Facebook indeed has a censorship problem, citing the recent incident where Facebook censored iconic American pastor Franklin Graham for a post he wrote 2 years ago.
Hall and Perkins were so determined to stay on message that they ignored the inconvenient truth that liberals also think social media platforms censor their views.
The MRC is going to have to either do a lot more work to keep its anti-Facebook narrative viable -- or just do the easy thing by admitting the truth that it's no longer operative, if it ever was.