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Facebook’s Algorithms of Censorship

Facebook’s Algorithms of Censorship

Episode #57  |  October 14th, 2021
Listen Now

In This Episode:

Fresh off the Facebook whistleblower testimony on Capitol Hill, Trish is joined by TV legend John Stossel, who is currently suing Facebook for defamation about his investigation into climate-change stories.

Stossel talks about the Facebook “fact-checking” process and how he even received an apology from one fact-checker, and how another said he never personally viewed John’s video.

The algorithm notices if you look at content for less than a second. I will fill your screen with more of what elicits a reaction more often – typically material that angers you or finds you delighting in seeing the other side getting slapped down. And so, yes, it encourages the spreading of division. 

Plus, Trish and John talk about the almighty Facebook algorithm and how it’s censoring Conservative voices while allowing Liberal media, Communist countries, and even the Taliban to post without penalty.

Have a question or topic you want to hear in a future podcast episode? Send us an e-mail at trishreganfeedback.com.

Guests:

John Stossel

Journalist & Bestselling Author
John Stossel, American television reporter and commentator, best known for his role on the ABC newsmagazine 20/20. Stossel graduated from Princeton University in 1969 with a B.A. in psychology. He soon began a career in television journalism, working initially as a researcher for KGW in Portland, Oregon, and then as a consumer reporter for WCBS in New York City. He worked as a consumer editor for ABC’s Good Morning America before becoming a correspondent for 20/20 in 1981. In time, Stossel’s role on the program expanded, and his occasional segment “Give Me a Break,” in which he skeptically examined topics ranging from education to government regulation, eventually became a regular feature of the show. In 1994 “Give Me a Break” was transformed into a series of one-hour prime-time specials that enjoyed consistently strong ratings. In 2003 ABC named Stossel a coanchor of 20/20. In 2009 Stossel joined the Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network as a special series host, author of the blog John Stossel’s Take, and anchor of the weekly news program Stossel (2009–16), focusing on libertarian issues. Stossel’s reporting garnered numerous awards, including Emmy Awards and a George Foster Peabody Award. In addition to his activities in broadcast journalism, he promoted Stossel in the Classroom, a video designed to help teachers develop their students’ critical thinking skills. Stossel also wrote Give Me a Break (2004), Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity (2006), and No, They Can’t: Why Government Fails—But Individuals Succeed (2012).

Transcript:

Trish Regan:               [Interlude plays] We’re just coming off those Facebook hearings, and the one thing we learned is that those algorithms are being written by some people who, well, have a viewpoint. Right? You can’t ever get away from that, it’s not just a computer. The computer is programmed by individuals. Individuals naturally have biases. So what is that doing to our society in the process?

Hello, everyone. Welcome to this week’s edition of American Consequences. I am Trish Regan. It’s really good to have you here. Just a quick reminder, you can go to americanconsequences.com, subscribe to us there, and get lots of different writing from some really wonderful people, including my friend, Ron Paul, Buck Sexton, John Stossel, who you are going to hear from momentarily, and the legendary P. J. O’Rourke.

Really quite a stellar team that we have there. Anyway, we’re talking about Facebook this week because John Stossel, he’s not messing around. He has just filed a lawsuit for a million bucks against Facebook. And I’m so excited because he’s right here on this program.

You’ve heard me complain about Facebook before. Well, we’ve got John, who’s taken his complaints to a whole new level, suing the company. I want to welcome the legendary John Stossel, who runs Stossel TV. It’s good to talk to you.

 

John Stossel:               You too, Trish.

 

Trish Regan:               So I’ve been following you and everything that is happening. And I have been cheering you on here from the sidelines because you are going where I think a lot of people want to go.

You filed a lawsuit against Facebook because you say, I guess, there’s a fancier way of describing this, but effectively shadow-banning your content, not allowing your content to be properly distributed. Tell me all that’s going on. Let’s start at the beginning because people are pretty concerned about this, John.

 

John Stossel:               Well, the beginning was when I left Fox because I wanted to reach younger people, and I also wanted to edit like I used to do in 2020. And I started my own thing and released videos on social media where the young people are. My media son said, “Dad, you don’t need a network anymore, you’ve got a million Twitter followers. You can build it from there.”

And so, I did. I raised some money and we released a five-minute video every Tuesday. And it worked pretty well, that turned out we got most of our views from Facebook, and one got 24 million views on climate change on whether we’re doomed like the hysterics say. And it grew nicely. And then suddenly, our Facebook views disappeared.

And look, Facebook has every right to do that. It’s their space, and they ought not to shadow-ban, they ought to just be open about why they’re banning. But in my case, what had happened is that Facebook – and its cowardly way of trying to appease the demons in Washington – has partnered with various members of the Poynter Institute, a slack journalism outfit that’s persuaded Facebook to let it be the approver of its fact checkers.

And the area of science, they use this group called Science Feedback. It’s based in Paris, run by a French PhD with a greasy ponytail. And this is the same organization that got Facebook to ban any discussion about the virus possibly being man-made or coming out of the lab, which they immediately reversed once President Biden said, “You know, we should investigate this,” and only then did they take that away.

And this same group has a subsidiary called Climate Feedback, and they’re the usual climate alarmists and they don’t want anybody saying, “It’s not a crisis, we don’t have to totally ban fossil fuels,” and destroy the lives of poor people all over the world in hopes of stopping climate change, and these measures won’t do it anyway.

I did a video saying – two videos apparently that got me in trouble. One was a piece with Michael Shellenberger, the fine science writer who made the point that the California wildfires were not caused just by climate change like the politicians were saying, that the bigger role was bad forest management, that they left all the brush on the forest floor.

And I did this video, which didn’t deny the existence of climate change. I said that California’s temperature has risen three degrees over the past, I forget how many years, and that that played a role, but the bigger cause and the much-ignored cause by the idiot media was the bad forest management. And I didn’t even think it was controversial.

I don’t think it is among many environmentalists, but this group Climate Feedback labeled it, what was their exact label? “Misleading.” And that was posted on the Facebook site. And my views weren’t cut off quite yet, I think they were cut down a bit. I tried to appeal… the Facebook rules let you appeal to the fact checker.

So that’s pointless, they didn’t respond at first. I did a video on this if anybody wants to watch the five minutes description. But they basically just ignored me. I threatened them with a lawsuit, they ignored that. And then almost a year later, we reposted one of my older videos, this one called “Are We Doomed?” where three scientists said we can adjust to climate change.

We can do things like build dykes like the Dutch did many years ago, and it’s not the hysterical crisis that it’s made out to be. Twenty-four million views, all that’s great. And then suddenly it gets slapped with their next label, which is, let’s see what is, I don’t know what their labels are… “partly false, factual inaccuracy.”

And then all of a sudden, I no longer get most of my views on Facebook. And that hurts me because I rely on donations. And if I can’t get to those millions of people, now I’m getting thousands from Facebook and most of them – I thank god Twitter and YouTube exist… I get most from YouTube.

So look, they can cut me off if they want to trust the stupid Poynter Institute. But the part that pushed me to sue, is that you don’t get to lie about people that’s defamation and what they did in that first video when they criticized me, is they put up a statement in quotes that I never said:  ”Forest fires are caused by poor management, not climate change.”

And I hadn’t said that… that’s more blanket. That would be misleading to just say they’re caused only by bad management, but I never said that. And when I complained about it, they won’t remove it. They say it doesn’t have to be in quotes to be exact for a fact check, it’s just we know the guy you interviewed says things like that.

And then I’m a little different from most of the media these days in that we follow up and they list their expert reviewers who damned my piece and we called them up and said, “Would you do an interview explain this to me?”

And two of them agreed and we did the interviews and both of them hadn’t watched the video. They said, “Oh, you have to watch this. No, you’re mistaken, something’s wrong with the process.” They banned it just based on the fact that I interviewed Michael Shellenberger.

 

Trish Regan:               It’s so disturbing. And look, I’ve certainly dealt with some similar things myself, and I know what a frustrating process it is. And I’ll give you an example, I did a story for American Consequences for the magazine, and I talked about it in a video on the threat of an EMP attack and how we’re spending all this money on infrastructure but can we devote a little time to the one thing that really, really, really would be a problem in the event something like this would happen.

And we have an EMP commission and I quoted from the commission’s report, etc. And before you know it, I get a demonetization and reduction in the distribution of the content because they say it’s “controversial.” I’m sorry, but this is just there was nothing really controversial, there was certainly no video that would have been controversial, I was quoting from congressional reports.

And so I feel you, I hear you, and I guess one kudos to you, you’re doing absolutely the right thing because if they put something up like that, John, that really is kind of a defaming statement, especially when they don’t seem to have even read it. It must just be the algorithms, I guess, at work.

And the algorithms have been told by the Poynter Institute or whoever, I don’t know, “flag this, flag that,” then it is very detrimental to you and there should be some recourse for that. And you’re John Stossel and I’m Trish Regan, what about the average Joe that is just trying to get regular information and hear all sides and maybe wants to express his or her point of view what’s going on?

 

John Stossel:               There’s no way they can police their whole field because there are just so many posts. And the problem is they hire these groups like Climate Feedback who have Left-wing biases and that’s who they work with.

They’d be far better off just letting everything out, except for incitement to violence, molesting children, and just let the political debate play out. I’ve been demonetized by YouTube, because I’ve got a piece on socialism in Venezuela that showed people rioting.

So then it gets demonetized for violence. They’re trying, I understand the problem. If they weren’t all garden-variety Leftists it wouldn’t be quite as bad, but they can’t solve it. And all I can do is get them to stop lying about people. And I hope stop using Climate Feedback as a fact checker.

 

Trish Regan:               So when you tried to appeal all this and when you went to them, because look, nobody wants to sue for goodness sake, that’s sort of last resort. I think you probably had to have reached a pretty frustrated spot. What did they say? Did they ever say, “OK, well, oh gosh, we might’ve made a mistake”?

 

John Stossel:               No, they don’t say anything. They have their people they assign to talk to libertarian and conservative groups. And they are these young people who smile and say, “Well, here’s how our process works.” And they’re clearly just there to assuage you. And they say, well, would you investigate this? In this case, you’ve actually lied about me. “Yeah, we’ll get back to you.” And then they don’t call back.

 

Trish Regan:               I’ve had something similar quite recently actually with them and they don’t call back. Yeah, we’ll get back to you. It took me, I think, three weeks to get the “We’ll get back to you,” and they haven’t gotten back to me.

Look, I think it’s a problem. Maybe they’re saying we don’t want libertarians, we don’t want anybody right of center on our platform. Is that what they’re telling us?

 

John Stossel:               No, I don’t think that’s true. First of all, who’s we? We doesn’t want? I think Zuckerberg doesn’t want to ban one side, but he’s got a lot of people working for him who really are politically incensed and they’re on the Left, and they’re the ones who take the trouble to perpetuate these systems.

 

Trish Regan:               So this is new John. Back in the day, you might say there was a lot of Leftism in media, but it wasn’t, I don’t know, it was different than what we’re seeing I think today. I know I had stories killed when I worked for networks, including one on the privatization of Social Security.

I think I once told you about this, down in Chile and it had gone wonderfully well. And I did a great story, I went down to Chile, talked to everybody. And the network I worked for at the time had no interest, of course, Dan Rather was the anchor back then.

And the story sat on the shelves until a new anchor Bob Schieffer came in and they decided to run it. But it was a fair story, it’s just that it showed what could happen in the event of the privatization of Social Security. It was fair, but it was probably more positive on privatization than less positive, and that wasn’t going to fly with that network.

But this is kind of a whole other level, it feels like, because nowadays you have Stossel TV, that’s an independent business. You should be your own editor, but it feels like the Googles, the Facebooks, the YouTubes of the world have kind of taken on that role of Dan Rather, for example, it’s like they’re the managing editor and they’re deciding what is allowed to be seen.

And so you really don’t have the ability to have an independent news organization out there. That’s the conclusion I’ve been coming to, what about you?

 

John Stossel:               Yeah, and that’s their right. It’s their property, I have freedom of speech, but that’s the government. I don’t have freedom of reach and I’m very glad they let me reach 2.3 million viewers per video.

And it’s too bad the media doesn’t want to do stories like Social Security privatization. And in some ways it’s a good example of our problems in that that’s boring, nobody wants to watch Social Security privatization, except the proponent was, I assume you interviewed José Piñera?

 

Trish Regan:               Oh, I sure did.

 

John Stossel:               And he’s charming and good-looking and speaks well. And he makes it come alive and he talks about how they didn’t know if people were going to vote for it. And he was talking to his mother on the night of the vote and she didn’t think people would vote for it, and the votes came in and they couldn’t believe it.

There was some excitement to it and it’s a story. But most of these economic stories that are so important like how Social Security is going to go bankrupt and Medicare and Medicaid, even more so because people my age rudely refuse to die, and nobody pays attention, and they just spend more. But YouTube has a right to not run that stuff, and so does CBS, but they don’t have a right to lie about people and print quotes that were not said by the person.

 

Trish Regan:               Interesting. And so that’s sort of where you draw the line. But even that said, let’s just peel it back, and I understand that sort of where you have your legal rights. Aren’t you concerned at all? I mean, we both worry about sort of the brainwashing of America via a Leftist media. And now, you’ve got it in sort of pop culture, you’ve got it in Facebook.

I worry about groupthink. I mean, to me, there used to be a time and not that long ago. I mean, really not that long ago. I can remember having some spirited discussions and appreciation for all sides even in my little high school I went to, called Phillips Exeter, which has changed a lot. By the way, Mark Zuckerberg went there too, way back in the day and we used to get around a table and really just duke it out and have spirited, lovely discussions and that was welcomed.

I don’t think that’s welcomed today, I think that there’s one side and if you dare to even just ask a little tiny question that might probe a little bit more thought in somebody, to me if you know all sides, you know your argument all the better, that can’t happen because it’s now somehow offensive.

 

John Stossel:               I agree. And in saying that they have the legal right to do this, I didn’t mean to imply that I don’t agree with you that it’s horrible, but it is. And on ABC, they were leaning Lefty but they would allow debates. I did my first special called, “Are We Scaring You to Death?” And they made me do a half-hour of Nightline afterward about the so-called other side on.

But the producer said, “Well, I don’t agree with you, but it’s an argument that deserves to be heard,” and we no longer have that. And I even noticed it from the Right at Fox that while there used to be debates on TV, Gore Vidal, Buckley, and all that, they hated each other. The debates or Crossfire on CNN, the debates happened.

I noticed when I was on O’Reilly or Hannity and I would argue for drug legalization or for imprisoning fewer people, few of the libertarian issues where they disagreed, they did it once and then they never did it again.

They didn’t like it, and I think in terms of the fragmented Fox, CNN audience, it doesn’t work as well for ratings. And everybody wants people that they agree with or people who they hate and they like watching the host attack them, but no real debate.

 

Trish Regan:               I think that’s kind of new because I feel like when I first was in cable, and look, we would do the bull/bear debates or inflation debates on CNBC. We’d make that stuff really exciting, but I felt like you could have both sides. I remember one of my favorite debates was Paul versus Paul – I got Ron Paul and Paul Krugman to come on Bloomberg with me and have a debate, an economic debate.

And I felt like that was actually people still responded to that. I would say by the time I was at Fox, I noticed exactly what you’re talking about, whereas I think there was a desire to put ratings matter. I get it, you’re in business because people are watching.

So I understand that component of it, but for whatever reason, society wasn’t responding as well to two sides. They just, I think the viewer kind of got used to this idea that they could have an echo chamber of their own sort of thoughts and those are what were validated.

I’m a big believer in reading everything you can only because you ought to be able to get mad at it or understand it or whatever, but you want to understand where the other side is coming from. And that has been lost in cable TV and online today.

 

John Stossel:               I think it has. And here’s one theory, when these networks began, we viewed them as news networks. We wanted everybody to just come on board. But now they’re just partisan factories, red meat conservatives on Fox, and lunatic socialists on CNN and MSNBC.

 

Trish Regan:               And then that leaves Facebook sort of where they’ve been edging towards the Left, is that you think a survivalism for them, too… Are they so worried about an antitrust issue that they feel like they have to do whatever the administration wants?

 

John Stossel:               Maybe. And the case of Facebook, it’s often not anybody thinking about it, it’s just the algorithm. It’s so powerful. It notices what you look at for a quarter of a second more and gives you more of that. Also or what you’re more likely to send or react to. And often that’s something that makes you angry or where you love the other side getting slapped down. And so it encourages the spreading of division.

 

Trish Regan:               I agree with that. A lot of conservatives were really angry with the whistleblower who testified because they felt like this would bring more censorship, but I looked at it and I thought to myself, “There’s something there.”

On both sides where, for whatever reason, these algorithms are structured in a way that you will respond to something that gives you this sort of emotional trigger.

And consequently, I suspect that publishers are encouraged increasingly to provide that emotional trigger if they want to stay in business. Now, if you’re on the Right or if you’re a libertarian, or if you’re just saying anything that they disagree with, it’s hard to stay in business because the algorithms are going to penalize you for it. But I worry about it in terms of even the Leftism that’s out there.

I know that the videos I did on socialism, my concerns about socialism, John, those ran into similar problems, and they were “shadow-banned” where they’re not allowed to reach their full distribution.

I had somebody say to me the other day, “Oh my gosh, I saw you for the first time ever on Facebook recently.” I’ll give you something funny, you probably have way more followers than me.” I was late to the Facebook game. But I have 166,472 followers, it has not changed, John, in a year and a half. It doesn’t go up, it doesn’t go down.

 

John Stossel:               They do change like every two months a little, but it’s weird.

 

Trish Regan:               So from your libertarian perspective, where does this go? Aside from the lawsuit and again, you’re absolutely right, they have no right to defame you effectively in that way. But where does it go as a society, do you feel like we need more players?

You’ve got some others out there like Rumble, and Rumble is trying to do what it can to advance speech. And maybe we need more of this, I don’t think you can have one company that’s so big that everybody’s on that. Well, I’ll use this as an analogy, not to digress, but I’ve thought about it almost like I’m a local newspaper, you’re a local newspaper, and you’re working hard and you print these stories, but the delivery trucks go down.

You have no way to deliver that news to the households that, by the way, subscribe to the paper, they’ve subscribed to your channel, Stossel TV. But if you can’t get that video to them because the delivery mechanism is shut down, then you can publish all you want it defeats itself, it doesn’t actually get to the end audience. And so that’s what troubles me here because we only have like four real delivery mechanisms.

 

John Stossel:               Yes, but you can also subscribe. I’ll e-mail you my video every week and in fact, at the end of the videos, we encourage people to just subscribe, and then Facebook can’t cut us off.

The only reason that doesn’t solve the problem is because Facebook has been so successful and people like it. My libertarian fantasy is that people aren’t endlessly stupid. And eventually people will say, “Gee, all my friends over here think this one way and yet half the country voted for this Trump idiot.” And “What’s going on? Maybe I’m missing out on some information.” And they will eventually search out other forms of information. And some new thing that gives you several sides will become more popular. Substack, I don’t know what it will be, but I’m hopeful.

Trish Regan:               The good news is you’re still killing it on YouTube, you’re getting 2.3 million views. So there is an audience out there even if it’s harder to reach, but maybe it’s just that people have to come. I say this too, “you have to come to us,” you have to go and find Stossel TV and subscribe to it or go to the Trish Regan Show and find that, or just subscribe to the newsletter and be an active consumer.

It’s so easy to go on Facebook and let Facebook serve up everything they want you to see, but you have to kind of take charge of your own news flow in these days.

 

John Stossel:               And always, if you think about cable news, the big hit Fox gets 4 million views, Tucker Carlson, and there’re 330 million people in the country. Most people don’t give a damn about this stuff. They care about their families and money and sex and music and their children, gaming and a thousand other things. And so it’s only a few of us weirdos who care so much about public likes.

 

Trish Regan:               Which means, again, if you care, you should care enough to take it a step further. Maybe I, I don’t know, I hope people do, but it’s a tricky spot. And by the way, John, you and I are not alone, it feels like there’s this sort of crescendo coming. You look at the Wall Street Journal, they did a pretty solid investigative series on Instagram.

I was laughing, not really laughing, sort of horrified. The things that they were letting young girls see on Instagram… They don’t want my inflation videos to get out, or talk of the electrical grid and the danger of an EMP threat, but somehow you can really have pretty compromising effect on the psychology of young girls. So it seems like the standards are, I don’t know, I would say a little wacky.

 

John Stossel:               And if they police it well, then TikTok will get the views or some new companies. So I don’t know what they can do about it. It is horrible and young people – I look at my friend’s Facebook feeds in my personal Folly Beach volleyball field, like, “Gee, everybody’s having more fun than me.” And it can be difficult.

 

Trish Regan:               Hey, John. Listen, thank you. We appreciate the time.

 

John Stossel:               Terrific, thank you.

 

Trish Regan:               We do learn to adjust. I just question what we’re adjusting to, and I don’t know is I like the direction of this. I joke that I want to move to a cabin in the woods with no Internet, no nothing, no Facebook, no TikTok, but look, you can’t.

This is part of society – keeps on moving and you need to be cautious, you need to be thoughtful about how you interact with technology. But I keep getting back to, I’m sorry, this is where our government needs to actually play a role. Our government needs to stand up in some way, shape, or form to the TikToks of the world, to the Facebooks of the world, and do what they can to ensure a proper hospitable environment that allows for freedom of thought.

That’s one place where the government actually should try to make a difference and not by suppressing everyone that they disagree with, that’s really the danger in all of this. That you are going to move towards a society with group thought in that kind of totalitarianism could take over.

So look, I think we’re all well aware of the issue, I encourage you for that reason to go to americanconsequences.com, subscribe to our newsletter there. Go to Trish Intel, trishintel.com, I put out a daily newsletter there.

Go to the Trish Regan Show, subscribe to the podcast. I do hope you have subscribed to this podcast, American Consequences, where I am once a week as well. Look, you have to be a consumer in this environment, it’s what I do. I go to a whole host, like 20 different websites every single day, looking for news, and believe me, they’re not all conservative.

I’m looking for libertarian, I’m looking for socialist, even. I want to know what the other side is saying. And I think that’s how you’re the most informed person. Facebook makes it very easy, I get it. It’s all right there in the newsfeeds, so convenient. But I’ll tell you, honestly, I really don’t look so much at that newsfeed anymore because I know how it’s corrupted by algorithms.

And so, it’s the reason why I go out and I seek information on my own. And I think it’s a commitment that we all have to make as smart Americans, really. So we want to thank John Stossel.

You can check him out at Stossel TV. He also writes quite frequently in American Consequences, so you can hear from John there as well. And it’s an important thing that he’s doing. We wish him all the luck with his big lawsuit. My thanks to John today, and we’re going to be back next week with another very, very special guest.

Thank you so much for tuning in. I will see you online at trishintel.com, americanconsequences.com, and right back here next week.

 

Announcer:                 [Music plays] Thank you for listening to this episode of American Consequences. Want more Trish? Read her weekly articles, Thursdays, in our magazine at americanconsequences.com and subscribe for free to get all of our daily articles and the monthly magazine. We’d love to hear from you too. Send Trish a note – [email protected]

This broadcast is for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered personalized investment advice. Trading stocks, and all other financial instruments involves risk. You should not make any investment decision based solely on what you hear.

Trish Regan’s American Consequences is produced by Stansberry Research and American Consequences and is copyrighted by the Stansberry Radio Network.

 

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