- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 26, 2016

Facebook’s reboot with the right was firing on all cylinders last week as Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg met with conservatives in Washington and announced a program to manage employee political bias.

And then she publicly endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.

Still, Ms. Sandberg did enough during her two-day charm offensive to reinforce hopes that Facebook’s efforts to address its widely alleged anti-conservative tilt represent more than lip service.

At a forum Wednesday sponsored by the free-market American Enterprise Institute, Ms. Sandberg said employees now would receive instruction on avoiding political discrimination.

“We have a ‘managing bias’ class that all of our leaders and a lot of our employees have taken that I was part of helping to create. And we focused on racial bias, age bias, gender bias, national bias, and we’re going to add in a scenario now on political bias,” Ms. Sandberg said. “So as we think about helping people understand different points of view and being open to different points of view, we’re dealing with political bias as well going forward.”

AEI President Arthur Brooks, one of about a dozen top conservatives who attended the May 18 summit with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, called her anti-bias initiative “interesting and encouraging.”

The same day, Ms. Sandberg met on Capitol Hill with House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force, chaired by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, which was closed to the press but apparently went well.

“Thank you and your fellow colleagues for a great discussion on innovation and entrepreneurship,” Ms. Sandberg told Mr. Hatch afterward — on Facebook.

Her appearance Thursday on Fox News with host Megyn Kelly could only be described as chummy. Ms. Kelly steered clear of the bias controversy and announced that she had joined Ms. Sandberg’s “Lean In Together” campaign, which encourages women to support and act as mentors for other women.

For conservatives like Federalist co-founder Sean Davis, who had described the May 18 summit in Silicon Valley as a “textbook con job,” the jury remains out on whether Facebook will actually change its stripes.

The world’s largest social-media site, Facebook found itself in the middle of a political uproar after Gizmodo reported May 9 that employees said they routinely suppressed stories and outlets of interest to conservatives from the “trending topics” section, even if they were trending on social media.

“It’s far too soon to tell,” Mr. Davis said. “A company’s culture does not change overnight, and deeply ingrained personal bias isn’t rooted out by a training session here or a memo there. You can’t fake balance. When the ideological makeup of Facebook’s news team matches that of Facebook’s readers, we’ll know the company is committed to balanced coverage.”

A handful of incidents since the conservative summit has fed the bias perception. After actress Patricia Heaton posted a Tweet saying “choose, celebrate, support life,” Facebook reported on “trending topics” that she had promoted an “anti-abortion message.”

“OK, Mr. Zuckerberg, this is exactly the kind of thing we’re talking about,” said HotAir’s Larry O’Connor.

Two Facebook sites operated by activist Pamela Geller critical of radical Islam were removed the day of the June 12 massacre in Orlando, Florida, although they were back up less than a day later. Ms. Geller said she had received a message from the company saying her page “Stop Islamization of America” violated the company’s ban on “groups that are hateful, threatening or obscene.”

“While Facebook has made efforts to connect with high-profile yet persuadable conservative personalities that many no longer trust like Glenn Beck, those of us closest to the conservative activism trenches have not been contacted and the obvious dismay and disbelief among rank-and-file conservatives on Facebook is very strong,” said William Gheen, a frequent Facebook critic who head the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC.

Justin Danhof, general counsel of the free-market National Center for Public Policy Research, said one problem is that Facebook has been less than upfront about its bias. He said he saw more evidence of that when he asked Mr. Zuckerberg about the issue at the June 20 shareholder meeting in Redwood City, California.

Instead of answering, Mr. Zuckerberg deferred to another executive who “claimed that Facebook’s own internal investigation had exonerated the company, saying that there is no bias against conservatives on the company’s platform,” said Mr. Danhof. “In his next breath, though, he admitted that Facebook is making changes to its trending news platforms. Why is Facebook making changes if there is nothing wrong?”

Facebook said its internal investigation revealed “no evidence of systematic political bias,” although the probe “could not fully exclude the possibility of isolated improper actions or unintentional bias in the implementation of our guidelines or policies.”

At the AEI forum, Ms. Sandberg said the company took action after the Gizmodo report because the allegations “rang true.”

“We had an ex-contractor on that team who accused [us] of having a liberal bias, and that’s a pretty important accusation and it’s one we take seriously,” she said. “It’s also one which, frankly, rang true to some people because there is concern that Silicon Valley companies have a liberal bias.”

“And so we took it very seriously and we did a thorough investigation, and we didn’t find a liberal bias, but we still took additional steps to be more rigorous in our approach to running the editorial team, put out for our team stronger guidelines,” she said. “There was a list we were using to validate sites, we got rid of that so there was no list we were relying on.”

She said that Facebook is looking for employees with “cognitive diversity” after Mr. Brooks noted that it’s hard to find people with a “conservative worldview” in Silicon Valley.

“We think to build a product that 1.6 billion people use, you need diversity. And what you really what is cognitive diversity, which is what you’re talking about,” said Ms. Sandberg. “Different thoughts. Intellectual diversity. You also have to create an environment that rewards that. We’ve always tried to run a company where people speak truth to power.”

Even though conservatives are active on Facebook, its employees donated $114,000 to Mrs. Clinton in the latest reporting period and none to presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to an analysis by The Hill.

Ms. Sandberg is an active supporter of Democratic campaigns and liberal causes, contributing nearly $300,000 to candidates including Mrs. Clinton and President Obama since 2006, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Meanwhile, Mr. Zuckerberg has been more evenhanded, contributing to both Democrats and Republicans, including Mr. Hatch, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Interestingly, Facebook is more widely used by Republicans promoting Mr. Trump than by Democrats backing Mrs. Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders.

“It’s worth noting that Donald Trump has more fans [on Facebook] that both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton combined,” said Ms. Sandberg.

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