Facebook is courting conservative friends through a Wednesday afternoon meeting with CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The unusual session with about a dozen prominent conservative commentators and leaders is a response to last week’s allegations that former workers suppressed conservative news stories on Facebook.
The allegations were published by the tech blog Gizmodo, putting Facebook into a defensive crouch. Gizmodo’s sources were anonymous former contractors who managed the “Trending” stories box on the Facebook home page.
The former workers said they saw colleagues hide stories that were actually trending on the site about Republican politicians and other news of interest to conservative users. They also said other stories were artificially “injected,” forced to be trending.
Facebook is investigating the allegations. So far it says it has found no evidence of politically motivated decision-making.
If it did happen, it would have been a violation of the company’s guidelines, which “do not permit the suppression of political perspectives,” the company says.
Facebook’s business model revolves around getting as many users as possible — conservative, liberal and all the rest. So the allegations of anti-conservative bias have presented the company with a big perception problem.
That’s why Wednesday’s meeting is taking place.
Facebook invited more than a dozen people to meet with Zuckerberg at the company’s Menlo Park, California headquarters.
Facebook is unlikely to make any announcements during the meeting; it is being described as an opportunity for Zuckerberg and his staffers to listen.
Attendees include Donald Trump campaign adviser Barry Bennett, CNN commentator SE Cupp, Fox News host Dana Perino, Tea Party Patriots CEO Jenny Beth Martin, and Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint.
A few invitees turned down the offer; Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said “Facebook has a history of agitating against conservatives and conservative policies” and a single meeting would not resolve the issues.
But some other conservative media personalities and organizers have had friendlier things to say about Facebook.
The social network’s power is indisputable. Hundreds of millions of people see links to news stories and opinions through the site. With that kind of power come a lot of questions about how exactly the “Trending” stories box is produced and how the larger news feed is generated.
“For Facebook, this is I think a turning point, because they’re asking themselves questions as a company about what their responsibilities are,” Poynter media ethicist Kelly McBride said on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources.”
She said the company’s response to the controversy stoked by Gizmodo “was the most transparent I’ve ever seen Facebook” be, calling it a “really good first step.”
Facebook has not formally released a list of the attendees, but it shared some of the names, and others have confirmed their participation directly, including:
— Barry Bennett, a senior political adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign
— Glenn Beck, radio and television talk show host
— Brent Bozell, president, Media Research Center
— SE Cupp, CNN conservative commentator
— Dana Perino, former White House press secretary and Fox News host
— Jim DeMint, former senator and the president of the Heritage Foundation
— Kristen Soltis Anderson, Republican pollster at Echelon Insights, a political research company, and Washington Examiner columnist
— Arthur Brooks, the American Enterprise Institute
— Alex Skatell, CEO, Independent Journal Review
— Jonathan Garthwaite, vice president and general manager of Townhall Media, which oversees conservative news sites including RedState.com
— Jenny Beth Martin, Tea Party Patriots CEO
— Zac Moffatt, former digital director for Mitt Romney