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Glenn Beck: Fooled by Facebook?

In the wake of reports that Facebook censors conservative voices, media figure Glenn Beck met with company chairman Mark Zuckerberg and emerged from the meeting, as he put it, “convinced that Facebook is behaving appropriately and trying to do the right thing.” Nothing to see here, move along. Unfortunately, this is nonsense.

Beck admits in his article on this subject, “I am not an expert on data or AI or algorithms.” Neither am I. But the Facebook censorship in the news isn’t about artificial intelligence but human intelligence — and its biases. In fact, the focus on technology could be (I’m not implying this is the case with Beck) an effort at Machiavellian misdirection: “Watch what the machine is doing, watch the machine, so you don’t see the man behind the curtain.

I’ll get right to the point. Fraudbook employs a group of young journalists, known as “news curators,” who are empowered to manage the algorithmic results and “refine” what qualifies for the site’s “Trending Topics” section. As company vice president of search Tom Stocky put it, the curators “audit topics surfaced algorithmically: reviewers are required to accept topics that reflect real world events, and are instructed to disregard junk or duplicate topics, hoaxes, or subjects with insufficient sources.”

So already evident is a Fraudbook deception: the Trending Topics section is supposed to reflect “popularity,” not politically correctness. Who decides what constitute “real world events”? What is a “junk” topic and who defines such? Should “duplicate topics” be disregarded if that duplication reflects trends and popularity? Why should “insufficient sources” disqualify a story, given that great breakthroughs — in science and news — often begin with one person’s endeavors? (When the story becomes well known, or “popular,” other journalists investigate the matter and separate fact from fiction; this can’t happen if it’s suppressed in the first place.) And while no one wants hoaxes promoted, we could even wonder how often incredible but true stories are labeled hoaxes by credulous or biased curators.

And who are these people empowered to decide who is an unreal-world, junky, topic-duplicating, insufficiently-sourced, possible hoaxer? Gizmodo.com, which broke the recent Fraudbook story, tells us they are “a small group of young journalists, primarily educated at Ivy League or private East Coast universities, who curate the ‘trending’ module on the upper-right-hand corner of the site.”  LOL, c’mon, Glenn, are you gonna let these people spit down your back and tell you it’s rainin’? While tech workers are notoriously liberal, as the statistics here show, journalism majors from “Ivy League or private East Coast universities” make them look like William F. Buckley2. Fact: giving people the power to “refine” news is synonymous with human bias entering the equation.

And you cannot give young, hardcore liberal journalists from “elite” schools that power without a strong liberal bias entering the equation.

Of course, the nature of biases is that people generally aren’t aware, at least not fully, of their biases. Just consider a Guardian defense of Fraudbook. The news organ interviewed an ex-Fraudbook curator who challenged Gizmodo’s report and related, writes the paper, “that newsworthiness was determined by how often a story appeared on a list of trusted news outlets including this publication [the Guardian], the New York Times and the BBC.” Are you getting this, Glenn?

That the ex-employee and Guardian consider this exculpatory of Fraudbook tells the tale: they’re so oblivious to their own biases they consider left-wing, mainstream-media news sources “unbiased” arbiters of newsworthiness. Obviously, if you use leftist entities to “refine” your algorithmic results, you’ll get Al Gore-rhythmic results.

So as Gizmodo put it, “In other words, Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation.” Without a doubt. Liberal journalists censoring the news? Check. Institutional guidelines elevating supposed real-world events and disqualifying supposed junk? Check. Reliance upon other left-wing sources to determine real-world quality, junkiness and newsworthiness, creating a liberal echo chamber? Check. Fraudbook’s trending team couldn’t be more like a traditional newsroom if it tried.

So while a selling point of big social media is that it’s a democratic arena in which “the people” determine what’s seen and heard, it’s instead more like professional wrestling circa 1980: certainly fake but still claiming authenticity. Of course, Fraudbook has a right (at least under our system, as opposed to the statist one Zuckerberg is working to visit upon us) to adopt whatever policies it wishes. But how about some truth in advertising? Don’t claim to be presenting merely what’s “popular.”

Beck should also note that Fraudbook has been caught censoring news time and again. As the Gatestone Institute wrote in February, “It was only a few weeks ago that Facebook was forced to back down when caught permitting anti-Israel postings, but censoring equivalent anti-Palestinian postings.” Even more damning, at a UN development summit in New York in September, Zuckerberg met with German chancellor Angela Merkel. “As they sat down,” continued Gatestone, “Chancellor Merkel’s microphone, still on, recorded Merkel asking Zuckerberg what could be done to stop anti-immigration postings being written on Facebook. She asked if it was something he was working on, and he assured her it was.”

And I’m sure Merkel would describe Zuckerberg as someone who was “humble, open, and listened intently,” which, by the way, are the precise words Beck used to describe the Fraudbook figures (including Zuck) he met with. Zuck told Merkel what she wanted to hear, which happened to be the truth; and Zuck told Beck what he wanted to hear, which happened to not be. Zuck is concerned about making money and Fraudbook’s stock price, you see.

Having said this, I doubt Zuck is fully aware of the news curators’ shenanigans. Again, people, liberals especially, are often blithely unaware of emotionally satisfying biases woven into organizations. Stories of Fraudbook censorship of conservatives are legion, however. And while it involves not censorship but an effort at undermining, I have one myself.

Aside from my syndicated pieces, I write exclusive news/commentary articles for The New American (TNA), which has both a website and hard-copy magazine. And as many sites do, TNA has Fraudbook’s “Like” button at the top of every article; it indicates how many Fraudbook users read, liked the piece and chose to click the button. Well, for more than a year and ending only about a year ago, I and members of TNA’s staff noticed a strange and consistent phenomenon: likes would accumulate on a piece and then “poof!” they’d disappear with the counter having been dialed back to zero. This happened consistently across all TNA articles; in one case, one of my pieces had 30,000 likes before they were sent to the gulag.

One might consider this a glitch, but I never observed the phenomenon at any liberal/mainstream-media site. And why does it matter? Because likes are a good metric for not just popularity but also level of readership, and people are influenced by what’s popular. Make an article’s content appear unread and unpopular and people are more likely to dismiss it as a fringe view.

I always assumed, and this accords with Gizmodo’s findings, that the like-button manipulation was the work of one or two rogue (and petty) employees — who were operating in a liberal organization that would turn a blind eye to such shenanigans. Yet Beck’s thoughts are different. In a further glowing endorsement of Fraudbook, he was quoted in a May 19 Time piece as saying about his meeting with the company’s representatives, “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.” That’s what he thought, alright. And here’s what I think: that Facebook has two faces, and one of them is seen only by big names that Zuck et al. can use for photo-ops and public-relations purposes.

And that’s likely what happened with you, Mr. Beck. You found Zuck and Company cordial — they just find you useful.

Contact Selwyn Duke, follow him on Twitter or log on to SelwynDuke.com

ABC Documentary: The Rescue of Iraqi Christians

The ABC 20/20 documentary graphically portrayed how these Iraqi Christians threatened with genocide fled from their millennia old community of Qaragosh, Iraq, after a mortar attack by ISIS.  The Christian community they fled was one of the oldest in the Middle East and was violently desecrated by ISIS.  They were told by rampaging ISIS jihadis they had three choices; to flee, remain as virtual slaves or be killed. They were among the more than 170,000 internally displaced Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan threatened by barbaric apocalyptic ISIS less than 30 miles away.

The Qaragosh Christian community fled and became locked in a virtually immoveable massive traffic jam. They abandoned their vehicles fled on foot to Erbil. There they found  sanctuary in the courtyard of Mar Elia Chaldean Catholic Church presided over by resourceful Father Douglas Bazi.  At first housed in tents, the 560 refugees were subsequently housed in caravans, with space heaters, limited sanitary facilities and communal kitchens.  They were Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who dared not enter UN High Commission for Refugees reception centers in Kurdistan, that already house 1.8 million largely Muslim refugees, for fear of retaliation. They lived in fear of any future as they lack residency.


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Iraqi Christian Grandfather Nissan and his grandchildren Mar Elia Church Compound, Erbil, Kurdistan December 14, 2015. Source: ABC 20/20.

That is when a remarkable alliance came to their aid. The ABC 20/20 documentary, narrated by Elizabeth Vargas, outlined who were prime actors:

Glenn Beck‘s charity, Mercury One’s Nazarene Fund, raised more than $12 million for the evacuation and resettlement efforts of the refugees. Contracted by the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, former U.S. counter-terrorism officers Joseph and Michele Assad have spent the past four months forging a close partnership with Father Douglas Bazi at Mar Elia. The Assads were managing the risky plan of getting the refugees out of Iraq and finding a country that would grant them asylum so they can start their lives over.

Slovakia, a predominantly Catholic country, agreed to open its doors to at least 25 Iraqi Christian refugee families — 149 people in total — on the condition that no terrorists would pass through the Assads’ security check.

The Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom in a press release about the ABC 20/20 documentary provided the time line and key actors involved in this dramatic rescue:

In summer 2015, Hudson Center for Religious Freedom director Nina Shea initiated a project  to resettle Iraq’s most vulnerable minorities in countries where they would have residency rights (denied them in Kurdistan), practice their religion freely, and be safe. On August 17, Chaldean Catholic priest Douglas Bazi, who operates the Mar Elia camp, met with Shea at her office and asked her help to resettle his refugees out of the region. Shea immediately agreed.

With the encouragement and support of Hollywood producer Mark Burnett, Hudson brought on as an advisor evangelical leader and author Johnnie Moore and contracted security expert Joseph Assad. For three months, the team carried out extensive research, vetting, planning, logistical support, advocacy and preparatory travel under this project.

During this period, Shea met with the Syriac Catholic Patriarch Younan, several other Iraqi bishops, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vice President of Slovakia, and diplomats, legislators and officials from dozens of countries in North and South America, Western and Central Europe, Australia, Armenia, and Kurdistan, as well as those of the United States.

It was the small Central European country of Slovakia that finally agreed to accept the Iraqi Christians, after being urged to do so by a key Vatican official who is Slovakian. On December 10, the Hudson team took these Iraqi Christian refugees to Slovakia in a plane chartered by Mercury One, the charity of media personality Glenn Beck, supported with [$12 Million in] funds donated by thousands of American citizens.

“While the world is focused on Syrian refugees, we never forget that tens of thousands of vulnerable Iraqi Christians who’ve escaped ISIS remain stranded in camps in Kurdistan and throughout the region with dim prospects of ever returning home,” said Nina Shea. “We hope our efforts will prompt other countries – especially the United States – to take them in.”

Slovakia is the first country to accept a large group of displaced “IDP” Iraqi Christians who survived ISIS and are displaced inside Iraq. Four days after Slovakia opened its doors, on December 14, and after closely observing the Center’s project, the neighboring Czech Republic announced it too would admit Iraqi Christian IDPs, beginning in January, 2016.

The United States does not accept Iraqi Christian IDPs for resettlement. Last summer, the State Department had even withheld two-week tourist visas from some of the same Christian children evacuated through the Center project last week; they had been awarded scholarships by a New Hampshire sports camp.

We have written about the plight of Assyrian and Chaldean Christians in Kurdistan and Syria and the refusal by our State Department to admit them under the Refugee Resettlement Program. We have published articles and conducted interviews about the genocidal threat towards Iraqi Christian with Canon Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad and Joseph T. Kassab of the Iraqi Christian Advocacy and Empowerment Institute (ICAEI) in both the New English Review and interviewed them on The Lisa Benson Show.  The Lisa Benson Show has established the Queen Esther Project to assist in funding efforts for the rescue of Yazidis, Christians and other non-Muslim religious minorities faced with extinction by ISIS.

One of the suggestions made by Kassab of the ICAEI, is an emergency airlift akin to that used to evacuate 130,000 Vietnamese in the closing days of the Vietnam War.  That was the first wave of Vietnamese refugees that ultimately numbered over 1.2 million. Our State Department had the temerity to suggest that these threatened Christians were excluded when they are covered by one of the priorities in our Refugee Admissions Program, fear of religious persecution.  Moreover, as Shea of the Hudson Institute has written, Christians were apparently excluded from a proposed State Departmernt genocide ruling that only covered Yazidis.

Those Vietnamese refugees were brought to Gulf Coast and created a vibrant community engaged in shrimping and other economic enterprises.  There is a large Vietnamese Catholic Church, Our Lady of Martyrs, in our community.  Instead of admitting these threatened Christians, the Administration is granting admissions to Syrian and other Muslim refugees, despite concerns about possible ISIS terrorist infiltrators among them.  Iraqi and Syrian Christians would be easily vetted and would likely be admitted under Family Reunification Visa Programs. The question is will Americans who took time out from holiday preparation to watch the ABC 20/20 documentary  be aroused to contact the White House and Congressional Representatives to open this country to admit Iraqi Christians as productive citizens, as they did Vietnamese four decades ago.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.