Mark Zuckerberg just made a bad problem worse.
The Facebook founder recently held a public relations-oriented meeting with some of the nation's leading conservative figures to address the bias that was revealed in the social media site’s Trending Topics section.
The meeting with the reported 17 conservative notables was said to have lasted approximately one hour.
Despite the participants having been bound by confidentiality agreements and the gathering having been off-limits to the press, a surprising amount of information concerning the meeting has leaked out.
The handpicked invitees to the high-tech version of a “beer summit” were Fox News co-host Dana Perino, The Blaze founder Glenn Beck, Donald Trump adviser Barry Bennett, former Republican Senator Jim DeMint, Fox News co-host Tucker Carlson, The Daily Signal editor Robert Bluey, Independent Journal Review founder Alex Skatell, CNN commentators Mary Katharine Ham and S.E. Cupp, Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin, TownHall.com columnist Jonathon Garthwaite, former Romney campaign digital director Zac Moffatt, American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks, Media Research Center president Brent Bozell, pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson, former Boston Herald contributing columnist Jennifer Braceras, and ForAmerica executive director David Bozell.
The gathering of select conservatives was held in response to claims made by a former Facebook employee. The anonymous source alleged that staffers in charge of maintaining the site's Trending Topics box, which highlights current events stories, deleted posts from conservative news sites while simultaneously inserting posts into the feed from left-leaning media outlets.
According to Zuckerberg, the motivation behind the meeting was to engage in “a direct conversation about what Facebook stands for.”
The brand that Zuckerberg has carefully cultivated over the years for the social media platform is one in which content is provided by users themselves, without interference from gatekeepers.
Although public relations in the form of damage control seemed to be at the heart of the right-of-center get-together, Zuckerberg nonetheless harmed his brand with the meeting's very premise. The site's brand is closely associated with being an unfiltered platform that encourages individuals to communicate and share information with one another.
At the center of the Facebook universe is, after all, the individual user. Or at least this is how it is supposed to be.
The social media site has the technological ability to communicate with conservative users, and to do so online in real time, in a fully open manner (e.g., Facebook Live).
In holding his meeting, Zuckerberg instead chose to communicate with a calculated collection of media figures, former politicians, news outlet editors, and the like, something that is in complete contradiction with Facebook's corporate mission.
Facebook is now faced with a number of problems that are not likely to go away in a few PR stokes. The use of an algorithm, though, in conjunction with human subjectivity in the form of staffers to determine what is included in Trending Topics, is the primary issue with which the site must deal.
Having Facebook staffers pick, promote, and label topics and articles that appear in the trending category is antithetical to the social site's longstanding model.
In addition to the meeting, Facebook has announced that it is conducting an internal investigation into the matter; i.e., Facebook is investigating itself. This is hardly a vigorous enough response.
The launch of an internal investigation is a strategic political maneuver, one that is typically used to obfuscate facts and fool the public into believing that appropriate action is being taken and remedies are forthcoming.
However, practices used in Trending Topics could be corrected to a significant degree within the Facebook organization in a very swift manner. Unfortunately, they have not. This is grossly unacceptable to a huge number of Facebook users and needs a much more forceful response.
As to Facebook's brand, the verdict is still out as to the extent of the damage. One thing is for certain, though, time is of the essence.
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.
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