Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with 16 conservative leaders at the company’s headquarters Wednesday to address allegations that the social media giant had suppressed conservative content. Facebook has disputed these charges. TIME spoke with Glenn Beck, a conservative radio and TV host, author and founder of The Blaze, about his thoughts on the meeting, how social media is affecting the election and the importance of maintaining moral standards in politics.
What was your reaction to the meeting with Facebook Wednesday?
I thought it was great. I thought they were sincere. And as I was leaving, I thought: “What company has done that with conservatives?” Especially a media company.
Right now Target is telling me that my wife or my daughter has to go into a bathroom where there might be a strange man, and I can either like it or shop someplace else. Here’s Facebook, a much larger global corporation, sitting down with conservatives and saying: “I think there’s a problem, and one of the problems is you don’t trust us, and we want to work with you to build that trust.”
I haven’t gotten a call from the Washington Post or Google or Twitter or The New York Times ever saying: “Let’s sit down with a group of you so we can understand what your thoughts and feelings are and where you’re headed and how we can help.” I thought it was amazing.
Were you surprised to hear the allegations that Facebook was suppressing conservative content?
I don’t think any conservative is ever surprised. And it’s not necessarily that we think everyone is out to, you know, oh we’re going to drop it. I just think bias is in human nature and you see stories differently. So I wasn’t surprised.
But I will tell you that some people say they have—like Steven Crowder says he has proof of it, etc., etc. But I know because I’m a publisher of The Blaze that I also have seen the Facebook algorithm change the number of people being directed to our site and our stories.
And as Mark explained it yesterday to everybody there—and I’ve known this for a while because we had this problem and I called them and said: “Hey what’s going on?”—they’re trying to develop an algorithm that isn’t trying to push publishers out or squash anybody’s opinion. Their first line of business is the regular people who are connecting with their friends and sharing pictures of their family and things like that. They’re trying to keep someone from gaming the system.
I don’t think it’s a conservative hit. One of the conservative groups there said they took a 50% hit on their traffic during the election, but as he himself said as he was pointing that out, he also knows that the Huffington Post took a 70% hit at the same time. So it’s not a targeting of conservative thought.
How important is Facebook to The Blaze and to you personally in reaching your audience?
I think Facebook is probably the most important communication system of my lifetime. It is television; it is talk radio; it is the newspaper; and in some ways, most importantly, it’s the telephone. It has taken all of these ways of communicating and made them from mass media to personal and individual media. I think it’s remarkable for all of us.
Do you trust Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg?
Mark looks a man in the eye the entire time. I watched him carefully. And I watched Sheryl [Sandberg] and Peter Thiel and the whole team. Not one time did I get a sense that they were saying these things to get this off their back. I think they’re sincere.
I would hope that conservatives would recognize that a company that is really 80% global does not need to kowtow to anyone, but they recognize for the first time they have called conservatives and said: “Hey, we want you here. How can we make this better?”
I think that’s really important. And I believe them.
The other thing that I think is important is, I’ve heard some people saying they should have some sort of training where conservatives are called in to give them some sort of sensitivity training; there are a lot of liberals that don’t work around or know any conservatives. Some also say that maybe they should have hiring quotas and they should hire a certain number of conservatives.
I, for one, am a conservative because I believe those things don’t work. I would hope that we wouldn’t be a type of people that would try to jam down a private business’ throat systems and things that we know don’t work. That’s not who we are.
Facebook has been very involved with this election—sponsoring the conventions, partnering on debates—are you worried Facebook could have an effect on the election?
I’m always concerned when people accumulate as must power as Facebook has. However their algorithms are all AI—and they spoke to us a lot about artificial intelligence. They want to get the human out of the way because humans are biased.
It’s not in their best interest to do that. With that being said, it would be tempting to do it.
This will truly be the first Facebook presidency. It is all on social media—the television and the radio ads don’t mean as much as they used to. But I do believe they are trying to be fair. As long as they continue to prove that out and continue to follow up on the steps they are taking and be as transparent as possible, I’m going to take them at their word. Until they would prove otherwise. But I believed them.
Do you suspect censorship or bias at other social media sites?
I’m a personality that has 3.3 million people on Facebook. I’m also a publisher— probably 70% of traffic comes from social media. I’d be on the front lines of seeing it. I just haven’t seen it. Not at least on social media.
In fact, before I met with Mark Zuckerberg, I had lunch with Ev Williams, one of the co-founders of Twitter who started Medium, a new platform, and he was basically saying the same thing. He really wants conservatives to be involved, and he was reaching out to see how he could get conservatives involved in that medium. And Quora reached out about a year ago to me and said the same thing.
Much to the average person’s surprise, Silicon Valley is very liberal, but it’s also very libertarian. They are first and foremost capitalists. And they know alienating half of the population is just not a good business deal. They also know that the traditional media has disenfranchised 50%, and they don’t want to make that mistake.
How has Facebook and other social media affected Donald Trump’s candidacy?
Television in primaries played a real role in the way the debates went. But I think it was social media—friends connecting with friends—and then also I know Donald Trump had some robo-spam happening on social media. In particular you can smear people fairly quickly and do some serious damage if you contract for rob spam where the tweets or comments are all of a sudden everywhere about a certain aspect of what you’re saying and it looks like real people when in fact it’s not real people. I think that’s a dangerous thing to get into.
And that’s one thing that I would wish, that Facebook and Twitter and everyone else either mark those spammers or be on the lookout for them, especially during a presidential campaign. Because I think that’s really dangerous. People assume that it is a person on the other end, and many times it’s not.
Thursday morning you posted a poll to your Facebook page asking whether moral standards change with the times. How do you think moral standards for social media platforms need to change with the times?
That was one of the conversation I had with Ev Williams yesterday. He’s a guy who’s a big Obama supporter. And I was obviously not. And we talked about how do we bring the country together. How do we get people not to be so vitriolic and return to reason?
And I think it’s going to be difficult, but I think if people on both sides of the aisle—and especially powerful leaders in the media—set an example, we might be able to return to those values and standards that we used to have just inherently—that we listed to each other and treated each other with dignity.
That was what was so impressive yesterday at Facebook. They said to us the exact opposite of what it feels like to a conservative that the media and even the Republican Party have said. The Republican Party has said: “Conservatives, you don’t belong here. And we’re not really listening. And because of that you don’t really have control over your own life.”
And what Facebook said yesterday was: “You do belong here. We are listening to you. And with the right AI, you will have control over your information and what you view.”
And that’s what people are looking for now. And if we can do that and start opening up pathways to a dialogue, we will change the world.