Thursday, August 22, 2019

FIRST ON AZ's POLITICS: Kyl Answers Flack From His Facebook Audit On Anti-Conservative Bias (Read Audit Here)

Facebook released an interim audit report led by former Arizona Senator Jon Kyl this week, addressing the topic of whether the social media giant has an anti-conservative bias. The report immediately drew flack from partisans on either end of the spectrum, but Kyl tells Arizona's Politics that his primary task was to survey fellow conservatives about their views of bias "so FB could then determine what to do about it."

Facebook hired Kyl and his Covington & Burling team last year, shortly after CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by Republicans in Congress about widely-circulated claims of bias against conservative viewpoints. Zuckerberg promised to look into the complaints.

When asked if he was retained by FB to act as a go-between the company and conservatives, Kyl tells Arizona's Politics that "'liaison' is partially accurate, in that FB thought I had the credibility to obtain solid and candid information from conservatives, which we then reported back to FB. But, we have also consulted with FB throughout the process. My primary job was to find out for FB what conservatives thought of the platform and their views of bias so FB could then determine what to do about it."

As indicated in the newly-released interim report, Kyl and his team interviewed "approximately 133" conservative organizations, individuals and lawmakers. Kyl gave Facebook their initial findings in early August of last year.

In late August 2018, of course, Arizona Senator John McCain passed away and Kyl was named by Governor Doug Ducey to return to the Senate to represent Arizonans. Kyl tells Arizona's Politics that even though his team continued working on the Facebook project, he had "no contact with anyone at FB or Cov(ington) while I was back in the Senate."*

(Arizona's Politics extensively covered Kyl's pre-Senate-fill-in-stint lobbying, and his (delayed) Senate-required financial disclosure statement. The latter does disclose his Facebook work, and that he owns a few shares of Facebook stock through a "managed mutual fund".)

Earlier this summer, Kyl and his team conducted follow-up interviews, and then presented the 8-page report to Facebook. (Facebook released it this week.) In the report, Kyl concludes that FB "has taken some steps to address the concerns we uncovered. But there is still significant work to be done to satisfy the concerns we heard from conservatives."

Indeed, Politico reported that Kyl colleague Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) called the report "a smokescreen disguised as a solution," and called for "an actual audit" that would be released to the public. On the other end of the political spectrum, one group called it a "shameful report".

*In response to questions, Kyl emphatically tells us that he did not "participate in any activity relating to FB while (in the Senate)." That extends to all of the many other clients that he had represented in the years before his 2018 Senate stint, he told us.

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