Conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation already wields its influence in high places, with numerous employees rotating in and out of the Trump administration and an agenda that it brags has been embraced by the president.
The powerful non-profit now has the ear of Facebook executives. Leaders at the social media giant are reportedly meeting with The Heritage Foundation as part of an audit into whether the platform’s news feed harbors an anti-conservative bias.
During Senate hearings this year, numerous Republican lawmakers grilled CEO Mark Zuckerberg over a suspected bias that the news feed may have against conservative news outlets. The tech site Gizmodo had reported two years ago that former workers in Facebook’s “trending topics” department suppressed trending stories if they came from conservative sources.
In response to the criticism, Facebook told the site Axios last week that it is agreeing to an outside audit into its suspected liberal bias. The audit will be conducted by the Heritage Foundation, as well as former Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, now an attorney.
Ranking sites by “trustworthiness”
The foundation described Facebook’s move as encouraging. “From what I've heard, it sounds encouraging that Facebook is taking steps to evaluate where things stand in the marketplace,” Rob Bluey, a spokesman with the Heritage Foundation, told Axios.
It’s just one of numerous investigations that Facebook has agreed to launch into itself recently in response to concerns about what content gets promoted in the news feed. But its numerous policies to address critics seem at times to conflict with one another. The site this year has also announced plans to crack down on “fake news,” or untrustworthy news sources that spread false information.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg said last week that Facebook is now ranking news organizations on trustworthiness, and promoting or suppressing such organizations based on that metric, in an effort to end “polarization.”
“We put [that data] into the system, and it is acting as a boost or a suppression, and we’re going to dial up the intensity of that over time," Zuckerberg told reporters last week. "We feel like we have a responsibility to further [break] down polarization and find common ground.”
Denying climate change
In that case, The Heritage Foundation would seem an unlikely partner to take part in its anti-conservative bias study. The Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group of scientists, has described the Heritage Foundation as one of numerous organizations that spreads misinformation about climate science, “a strategy designed to confuse the public about global warming and delay action on climate change,” they write.
The Climate Investigations Center says that the Heritage Foundation “since its inception” has used “a variety of tactics to distort public opinion on climate change and influence decision making in Washington.”
While the Heritage Foundation says on its website that it receives funding from donors large and small, the group has well-documented ties with corporate donors that include the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil. Keeping in line with the ideologies of its corporate donors, the Heritage Foundation has for years claimed that global warming is not a serious problem or that the science is far from settled.
David Kreutzer was a fellow at the Heritage Foundation when he wrote that “no consensus exists that man-made emissions are the primary driver of global warming.” Kreutzer briefly worked in the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump but resigned and returned to his former post at the foundation last year.
“True believers,” the Heritage Foundation describes climate scientists and environmental advocates as, “want us to accept sacrifices now—and a poorer world—in favor of unproven policies to avert warming that may or may not occur, and that may or may not be harmful.”
Climate scientists don’t agree with that assertion, but it hasn’t stopped policies promoted by the Heritage Foundation from gaining traction in the White house. The site Politico reported shortly after the 2016 election that the Heritage Foundation had taken over as Trump’s “shadow” transition team, vetting resumes or working in the administration directly. The foundation more recently touted that Trump has embraced two-thirds of its own policy agenda.
Civil rights attorney heads audit for minority suppression
In addition to its efforts to combat untrustworthy news and its suspected liberal bias, Facebook has also announced an audit into whether it is suppressing the voices of minorities.
For that investigation, Facebook is agreeing to an audit at the hands of civil rights attorney Laura Murphy and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of civil rights groups that are often at odds with the Trump administration.
Facebook’s press team has not yet returned an inquiry from ConsumerAffairs.