LOTT: There Are Lots Of Ways Social Media Outlets Can Bias Political Debate

John Lott | President, Crime Prevention Research Center

There are lots of ways that social media outlets can bias political debates. We have heard of everything from accounts being closed down to deciding what stories are listed as trending.

With Facebook using liberal fact-checking organizations such as ABC News, The Associated Press, FactCheck.org, and Politifact, it guarantees political bias. On Friday, Facebook announced that it was going to start applying this fact checking to photos and videos.

Social media companies give preference to outlets that they consider more authoritative. Over the last couple of week, I got to see this in action first-hand.

The Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC), of which I am president, put out a report that contradicts the mainstream media claim that the United States has had more mass public shootings than other countries. They had relied on a study by criminologist Adam Lankford, who claimed that out of all mass public shooters around the world from 1966 to 2012, 31 percent perpetrated their attacks in the United States.

But three years after being cited by President Obama and getting massive media coverage, Lankford still hasn’t released his list of shootings or even numbers of cases by country or year. Journalists and academics like myself have asked Lankford for his list, only to be declined.

He has also declined to provide lists of the news sources and languages that he used to compile his list of cases. After his paper was first released to the media, it was about five months before researchers could get a copy of it.

Lankford claims that there were 202 mass public shooters around the world from 1966 to 2012, but we found at least 3,081 over just the last 15 years of that period. Instead of the United States accounted for at most 1.43 percent of shooters — a far cry from 31 percent and much less than the United States’ 4.6-percent share of the world population.

We ran into difficulties when we tried to take out Facebook ads to publicize these findings. An ad linking to the CPRC report last Wednesday was quickly approved without any problem. But another ad on Saturday to a Fox News story about that very same research was rejected.

Facebook explained: “This ad was marked as low quality based on our low quality or disruptive content advertising policy. Low quality may include ads linking to external landing pages with an unexpected experience, feature minimal original content or contain disruptive or low-quality ads.”

We appealed the decision with no success. We wrote back that the Fox News linked to an original news story, and asked for an explanation for their decision, but they provided no explanation.

Still another ad linking to a Real Clear Politics news article on our research was approved. Real Clear Politics is moderate, and certainly more acceptable to liberals than Fox News

It certainly appears that Facebook cares much less about the content of a news article than who publishes it. Perhaps Facebook doesn’t like Fox News and other right-leaning media outlets.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Well-known gun control advocate Mike Weisser and I wrote an op-ed on this research, and it was published in the New York Post last Friday. When the CPRC took out an ad for it, Facebook turned it down because of its “political content.”

Maybe Facebook refused because the Post article was an opinion piece rather than a news story. But as a test, we took out an ad for an op-ed of mine that the New York Times published in February. It was also about gun control but was quickly approved. Ads for past gun control op-eds at The Hill had also been approved. Not surprisingly past ads for op-eds at Fox News have been consistently turned down.

It sure looks like the New York Post and Fox News, which is considered a more conservative news outlet than the New York Times or The Hill, were being discriminated against simply because they aren’t left-leaning.

Facebook recently changed its ad guidelines to supposedly protect against Russian interference. I submitted my driver’s license and had a special code was mailed to my home address.

Facebook’s discrimination against ads linking to conservative media means that there will be a liberal bias to the news that users see. Perhaps we don’t need protection from Russian interference so much as protection from Facebook interference.

John R. Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author most recently of “The War on Guns.”


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller

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