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Commentary: Why conservatives don't have Mark Zuckerberg's back

He's rich, he's white, he kills his own food (or used to, anyway), and he helped Donald Trump steal the 2016 election from Hillary Clinton. So why aren't conservatives getting Mark Zuckerberg's back?

I'm kidding about that "stealing the election" part, by the way--though Senate Democrats apparently aren't. Based on their paranoid probing of Zuckerberg over the Trump campaign's use of Facebook, they seem to be clinging to the belief that the Kremlin's social media efforts swayed America in the midst of a $2.4 billion campaign.

Which is yet another reason one might expect Republicans to rally around the seventh-richest man in the world: He's under attack from the Left, so why isn't he loved by the Right? 

Because they believe Facebook has become enemy-held territory.

"There's a perception on the Right that Facebook and Silicon Valley are biased against them," says GOP data analyst Patrick Ruffini of Echelon Insights. "They want social media to be an antidote to liberal bias in the mainstream media, then they see stories of people being fired from Google for 'incorrect opinions,' and it feeds the narrative that conservatives aren't welcome."

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pushed that point vigorously during his questioning of Zuckerberg on Tuesday, rolling through a litany of names—Glenn Beck, Diamond and Silk, even Chick-Fil-A—from a much longer list of people on the Right who have allegedly been blocked, banned or had their content buried by Facebook. 

Cruz also mentioned a report at the tech site Gizmodo quoting former Facebook curators claiming the platform promoted liberal content. "Several former Facebook 'news curators'…told Gizmodo that they were instructed to artificially 'inject' selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren't popular enough to warrant inclusion," the site reported.

"Conservatives have been complaining about Facebook for years," said Jeremy Carl, senior researcher at the Hoover Institute and a tech industry veteran. "How ironic that it took the accusation that Facebook helped a Republican to get everyone's attention."

Carl believes the Right is in real danger from "tech monopolies and oligarchies" like Facebook and Google. He points to a recent tweet from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey promoting an article calling for the total defeat of Republicans in a political "civil war."

Last summer Carl wrote an article for the conservative National Review website entitled "How To Break Silicon Valley's Anti-Free-Speech Monopoly," calling for federal mandates of free-speech protections on major social media companies.

"In my scholarly work, I write primarily about energy policy, in which electric utilities are usually referred to as 'natural monopolies,'" Carl wrote. "Government regulation of these utilities has traditionally been justified."

"For conservatives, the time has begun to think of some major Web services — in particular Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter — in the same way."

"When I wrote that, Republicans were totally clueless about what was happening to them," Carl told me during Zuckerberg's Senate appearance. "Now they're only partially clueless. I guess that's progress."

Many on the Right share his concern that these large, left-leaning tech firms will use their power to silence conservative voices. When Zuckerberg makes soothing statements like "It's not enough to just give people a voice, we have it to make sure people aren't using to hurt people or spread misinformation," conservatives start asking "Who defines 'hurt'? Who decides what is 'misinformation'?"

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, made a similar point during Tuesday's hearing. He asked the Facebook CEO to define hate speech. When Zuckerberg failed to do so, Sen. Sasse then asked, "Can you imagine a world where you might decide that pro-lifers are prohibited from speaking on Facebook…It might be unsettling to people who've had an abortion to have an open debate on that, wouldn't it?"

Zuckerberg's willingness to see his business regulated isn't calming conservative fears. They understand that regulations banning "hate speech" are almost certain to be crafted by bureaucrats and activists who believe that opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants, for example, is a form of hate.

But in the end, data guru Ruffini believes there will be no significant regulation on Silicon Valley's Big Tech players. "Republicans are willing to let these companies sweat to make them think twice about pushing regulation [like net neutrality] on the rest of the industry," Ruffini said.

"But Republicans don't like regulation, and Democrats have taken too much Big Tech money. I don't expect any major changes."

  • Michael Graham

    CBSN contributor Michael Graham is a conservative columnist for the Boston Herald.