The Heritage Foundation will defend Facebook’s legal right as a “private company” to censor content and will oppose attempts to regulate the tech giant, according to the think tank’s senior research fellow for technology, Klon Kitchen.
In an interview with Breitbart News, Kitchen argued that as a private company, Facebook has the right to censor content at will, although he strongly cautioned the social network against a censorious approach.
“I think Facebook is a private company,” said Kitchen, a former national security adviser to Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE). “Facebook can ultimately make decisions about what kind of speech it wants to have on its platform.”
“I think it is better for consumers and the American people to have as free a space for open dialogue and diversity of viewpoints as possible. … But they’re a private company, and the Heritage Foundation is going to be very clear about a private company’s right to organize and conduct its business as it sees fit.”
Kitchen disagreed with the view that platforms like Facebook and Google are special cases due to their dominant position in the marketplace and their unprecedented influence over news and politics, which includes the power to sway undecided voters by up to 80 percent, and boost voter registration by significant margins among targeted users.
“I think it’s clear that they challenge traditional understandings of all those things, but I don’t think it rises to the level of government regulating how they conduct their business or constraining them in other ways.”
“I think right now, we have free speech on these platforms,” said Kitchen. “Just about any political view that you want to have, you can get on these platforms. They certainly have community standards.”
Kitchen praised Facebook for its “receptiveness” to conservative outreach.
“That doesn’t mean that we agree with everything or that there’s been total transparency or decisive answers on all of our questions; this Senator Kyl [audit] is a recognition that there are some unanswered questions. But in terms of their response to us and their professionalism, they’ve been nothing but top notch.”
Today, Axios reported that The Heritage Foundation was involved with Facebook’s political bias review, conducted using employees of Eric Holder’s law firm, led by former Republican Senate Whip Jon Kyl. Kitchen said the report was a “misstatement” and that Heritage has set up off-the-record meetings between conservative tech policy experts and Facebook under its own initiative, without being prompted by the social network.
Kitchen indicated that The Heritage Foundation will adopt a wait-and-see approach regarding Facebook’s stated commitment to address censorship on the platform, saying it “remains to be seen” if Facebook is serious about the matter.
“I hope they’re serious,” said Kitchen. “They’ve given every indication that they are. How this audit goes forward, what the findings are, [and] what their response to the findings are will determine if they’re serious.”
In addition to censorship, Kitchen agreed that Facebook’s changes to its newsfeed algorithm and its plan to rank news sources by “trustworthiness” are areas of concern.
“The shift to the algorithm … is a political black box,” said Kitchen. “I don’t think people understand it. Some popular websites and news sources and aggregators on both sides of the aisle have expressed concerns about the impact of that algorithm change. Heritage would want to know more about how the algorithm works and why the effects of the algorithm are what they are.”
“We haven’t asked them directly to explain [the algorithm] yet. We’re going to wait and see how this audit comes out.”
Kitchen supports the idea of social networks maintaining lists of banned posts and users to be reviewed by conservative third parties. A variant of this idea has been proposed by Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale.
“I’m very happy for that to be one of many considerations. They do need to do a better job of explaining to users why they’re making the decisions they’re making. I think they understand that; what’s left to be seen is how well they’re going to go about doing that.”
Despite these suggestions for improvement on Facebook’s part, Kitchen praised the social network for its “granular” and “technical” approach to enforcing “hate speech” rules on American users.
“One of the points that the company made, which bears at least consideration, is that they’ve gone so granular. They’ve tried to be so technical as an act of preventing or mitigating bias, taking as much of the subjectivity out of it and injecting a logical rationale for individual choices on the removal of content.”
Kitchen declined to take a position on whether it’s “good or bad” for Facebook to impose European-style “hate speech” norms on American citizens, but he said it is, ultimately, “[Facebook’s] decision to make.”