On Tuesday, the long-awaited report was released, along with a Wall Street Journal op-ed by the former Arizona GOP senator.
“Facebook has recognized the importance of our assessment and has taken some steps to address the concerns we uncovered,” Kyl writes in the report. “But there is still significant work to be done to satisfy the concerns we heard from conservatives.”
The audit was voluntarily arranged by Facebook. According to Kyl, his team at Covington & Burling was given complete independence in conducting the review and reaching their conclusion.
However, the report doesn’t present any data at all. The methodology appears to be that Kyl and his team simply interviewed 133 conservative individuals and organizations and summarized their opinions. None of them are named.
“In order to encourage the most candid responses possible in our interviews, we agreed to keep the names confidential, and I believe that policy helped a lot,” Kyl told Mashable in an email. “What I can tell you is that almost every prominent conservative organization and many individuals with experience using Facebook were interviewed, and, based on the results, I believe we got a good representative sample of conservative opinion.”
The report doesn’t present any data at all
Conservatives in the report expressed concern over everything from Facebook’s algorithm change — which they accuse of preferring liberal news outlets — to the political beliefs of Facebook employees.
One particularly interesting section contends that conservatives are upset with Facebook for having hate speech policies at all.
Hate speech, specifically relating to white nationalism, has long been a problem on Facebook. Earlier this year, a white supremacist was able to successfully livestream his mass shooting, which left 51 people dead at two Christchurch, New Zealand mosques. Internationally, the UN has even linked hate speech on the platform to the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
“Interviewees’ concerns stemmed both from the notion of having a ‘hate speech’ policy in the first place and from unfair labeling of certain speech as ‘hate speech,'” says the report. “Interviewees often pointed out the highly subjective nature of determining what constitutes ‘hate’—an assessment that may be subject to the biases of content reviewers.”
Kyl’s report, as well as a by Facebook VP of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg, detailed the company’s response to these findings. In most cases, Facebook had already addressed the concerns in the report with earlier policy changes.
One specific policy affected by the audit is that Facebook will reverse a previous ad policy and now allow images of medical tubes connected to the human body in Facebook ads. The report explains that anti-abortion groups were having their advertisements rejected due to this rule.
Last year, Facebook to two separate legal audits in order to look into mounting allegations of bias against conservatives and minority groups. The latter audit was led by Laura Murphy, a civil rights leader formerly at the ACLU.
The civil rights audit looked into issues ranging from voter suppression caused by misinformation to white supremacy and hate content on the social media site. This audit has since two — one in December of last year detailing recommendations for Facebook, and a progress report this June. The third and final report is scheduled to be released in the first half of 2020.
It appears that the conservative bias audit is behind schedule, as the first report has taken more than a year to be issued. Kyl’s appointment to the U.S. Senate as John McCain’s replacement in 2018 was very likely a contributing factor.
But, in the end, the final results of Kyl’s audit might not matter. It’s clear that, for many bad actors in the conservative movement, the allegation of bias is a political weapon they’re more than willing to wield — regardless of the facts.