For the second time in less than a week, Facebook is facing uncomfortable questions about why it continues to allow InfoWars and other conspiracy theory-slinging groups to have a presence on its platform.
During a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, Facebook’s policy chief Monika Bickert fielded questions from Democrats who demanded to know why InfoWars has not been banned by Facebook.
Her explanation did not go over well.
Though Bickert acknowledged that Facebook does remove some individual posts, she said the site’s violations — including numerous claims that victims of school shootings are paid actors — have not yet been egregious enough to warrant an outright ban, even though it regularly promotes conspiracy theories and other false information.
“We have removed content from the InfoWars page to the extent that it’s violated our policies, they have not reached the threshold at which their entire page would come down,” she said.
When pressed as to how many violations it would take to reach that “threshold,” she simply said that “it depends on the nature of the violation.”
The hearing, which was meant to examine allegations of bias against conservative viewpoints, comes just a few days after Facebook kicked up controversy after it said banning InfoWars would go against “the basic principles of free speech.”
Nearly every Democrat present at Tuesday’s hearing made it clear they believed the committee’s time would be better spent investigating other issues, such as family separations at the U.S. Mexico border, or the president’s relationship with Vladimir Putin. Still, they didn’t let that stop them from criticizing Facebook for what they viewed as capitulating to right-wing conspiracy theorists.
“The Republican effort to advance its victimhood complex is somehow working,” remarked Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI). “Facebook has bent over backwards to placate and mollify conservatives based on fiction.”
Similarly, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) expressed concern over Facebook’s response to what he described as the “completely fanciful and mythical anti-conservative bias.”
“What concerns me is the political pressure that’s apparently being brought to bear now on all of these entities and the suggestion that they’re buckling under to this myth of some kind of conservative conspiracy,” he said.
It’s a concern that’s reportedly shared by some publishers. Earlier in the day, The Wall Street Journal reported that top editors from Buzzfeed and HuffPost expressed concern that Facebook is “overly deferential to conservatives” at an off-the record meeting with publishers also attended by The Daily Caller.
But if Facebook has any qualms about caving to pressure from conservatives, it wasn’t clear from Bickert’s comments Tuesday. In her opening remarks, the executive again apologized to the conservative social media personalities Diamond and Silk, saying the social network had “badly mishandled their concerns.”
Republicans on the committee also appeared unsatisfied with her remarks. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) at one point suggested that perhaps Facebook and others should be regulated like public utilities.
“What about converting the large behemoth organizations that we’re talking about here into public utilities?” he asked.
Meanwhile, Democrats were clearly frustrated with the very premise of the hearing.
“We’re having this ridiculous hearing on the content of speech in private companies,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) said. “What a dumb hearing this is.”