Has a high-ranking Senate Republican lost his damn mind?
In this never-ending pursuit of the trivial, legislators on Capitol Hill have decided it is worthy of their valuable time to investigate allegations that Facebook is playing fast and loose with the “trending” block of its landing page.
Spearheading this inquiry is Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Thune insists Facebook’s “manipulation” of its own website — promoting political viewpoints potentially contrary to Republican interests — is damaging to the internet.
“Facebook must answer these serious allegations and hold those responsible to account if there has been political bias in the dissemination of trending news,” Thune said in a statement. “Any attempt by a neutral and inclusive social media platform to censor or manipulate political discussion is an abuse of trust and inconsistent with the values of an open internet.”
For those who aren’t familiar with the nuances of Facebook, the social media site has a section dedicated to news stories receiving the most chatter on its platform. It can be anything as mundane as Taylor Swift’s dress to something more sobering — such as the latest ISIS attack.
According to a report from the technology website Gizmodo, some Facebook employees report the site suppresses conservative viewpoints and artificially pumps up news stories that are not actually trending.
If you’ve already lost interest, you’re not the only one. But this begs a larger question: Why are members of the U.S. Senate dedicating taxpayer resources to what Facebook does with its own website?
It seems like this is moving dangerously in the direction of government censorship. What business is it of any government official to question how a company deems a news story as “trending”?
In fact, there’s nothing Thune can do about Facebook and its business practices because it isn’t illegal. In fact, an argument can be made that this is protected by the U.S. Constitution.
What is Thune’s doing, then? Why has he decided to take on this battle?
Over the last few years, a lot of traditional Republican voters think the people they have voted into federal office have lost their way. The Tea Party movement in 2010 brought a renewed appreciation for the Constitution, liberty, self-reliance, downsizing the role of government.
In January 2011, coming out of the 2010 midterms, then-newly sworn-in House Speaker John Boehner pledged that, going forward, any legislation the House of Representatives considered would have Constitutional justification. He even had most of the members, both Democratic and Republican, read the Constitution out loud on the House floor.
So, where exactly would this Senate query fit in constitutionally? There’s nothing in the Constitution that mentions a government duty to protect against the “abuse of trust” of an open internet.
It’s these silly unforced errors by so-called establishment Republicans that have led to Donald Trump as its party’s nominee. While Facebook can be a fun and amusing place to waste time or catch on up the lives of family and acquaintances, its practices for determining “trending” news are hardly of interest to most Americans.
Even if it is on your radar and you find Facebook’s bias to be distasteful, no one is forcing you to visit the company’s website.
But what are you going to say? “Screw you guys. I’m going to MySpace!”
Facebook is the king of social media but there are some other big players that could serve as alternatives, like Twitter and Instagram. It’s just that Facebook does a better job appealing to a broader swath of the public.
Consumers are the only real force that will be able to apply legitimate and meaningful pressure on Facebook to change its ways.
In the wake of the apparent scandal, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to meet with Glenn Beck, Fox New Channel’s Dana Perino, American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks, CNN’s S.E. Cupp, Heritage Foundation’s Jim DeMint and other conservative movement leaders in hopes of nipping this controversy in the bud.
Zuckerberg also realizes he has a duty to serve the interests of Facebook’s shareholders. Although Facebook had a rocky beginning when it held its IPO exactly four years ago to the date, the stock has risen steadily. It started out around $38 a share and now is valued at nearly $120 a share, well over a 300 percent gain.
Picking this fight with conservatives by having your free website not giving a fair shake to a political point of view could just generate enough bad press to spook some investors.
The lesson: The free market works and it is a much more effective means of enacting change than Thune’s senatorial inquiry. Government moves slowly. A literal act of Congress is not easy to come by these days. It’s just a shame Thune has not realized this yet.