Facebook choked traffic to Mother Jones and other progressive sites while amplifying right-wing misinformation

Facebook choked traffic to Mother Jones and other progressive sites while amplifying right-wing misinformation
Mark Zuckerberg by Aaron-Schwartz, Shutterstock

Big Tech CEOs were grilled Wednesday about how they moderate election disinformation and extremist content, and were accused by Republicans of censoring conservatives. Overlooked were reports that Facebook designed changes to its news feed algorithm in 2017 to reduce the visibility of left-leaning news sites like Mother Jones. Mother Jones editors wrote in 2019 that the site had seen a sharp decline in its Facebook audience, which translated to a loss of around $600,000 over 18 months. "The fact that we are trying to do everything we can to get the truth out and Facebook is deliberately sabotaging our readership is so disturbing, at the same time that Facebook is spreading all of this dangerous information by conservatives, by President Trump," responds Ari Berman, senior writer at Mother Jones magazine, who has been reporting extensively on the 2020 election.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: But, Ari Berman, we have one last question for you that doesn't exactly relate to, though kind of, the elections. We're about to turn to a segment on Big Tech. The CEOs were grilled Wednesday on Capitol Hill about how they moderate election disinformation and extremist content. They were accused by Republicans of censoring conservatives.

But before we go, I wanted to ask you about how Facebook designed changes to its news feed algorithm in 2017 to reduce the visibility of progressive news sites like Mother Jones, your news organization. According to The Wall Street Journal, some policy executives at Facebook voiced concerns in 2017 about pending changes to the news feed algorithm that they thought might have a larger impact on right-leaning news sites like The Daily Wire, so engineers made changes to the algorithm that would have a bigger impact on the traffic to left-leaning sites. Meanwhile, Mother Jones editors wrote in 2019 the site had seen a sharp decline in its Facebook audience, which translated to a loss of around $600,000 over 18 months. And apparently, according to The Wall Street Journal, Zuckerberg himself signed off on these changes. Your comments?

ARI BERMAN: It's incredibly disturbing. It's an attack on democracy. It's an attack on freedom of the press. It's an attack on the progressive movement. Facebook is not censoring conservatives; it's boosting conservatives. It's censoring progressives. It's censoring independent media. And the fact that we are trying to do everything we can to get the truth out and Facebook is deliberately sabotaging our readership is so disturbing, at the same time that Facebook is spreading all of this disinformation by conservatives, by President Trump. So you have a situation where things that are manifestly untrue, by President Trump, by right-wing media, are getting huge boosts on Facebook, but efforts by Mother Jones and other publications to counter that disinformation, to tell people what's really going on, to report the facts, that is being censored.

So this is a huge scandal for democracy. This is a huge scandal for the media. Facebook needs to be held accountable for this. And I believe if there's a new administration and a new Congress, they are going to take a very hard look at Facebook's policies and how it's deliberately censored publications like Mother Jones, because this is an attack on democracy, an attack on freedom of the press.

AMY GOODMAN: Ari Berman, thanks so much for being with us, senior writer at Mother Jones, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. And we'll link to your piece at Mother Jones' website, "Brett Kavanaugh Lays Out a Plan to Help Trump Steal the Election.

When we come back, yes, we will look more at how — Big Tech's role in the election, as Senate Republicans accuse social media companies of favoring Democrats. And Democrats also took on the CEOs. But is that true? Stay with us.

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