Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg headed to Washington to deal with the controversies swirling around his social network, including privacy, protection of data and election security. He evenfor the subjects he expected lawmakers to throw at him.
Diamond and Silk weren't among his scribbles.
In one of several curveballs thrown at the billionaire, senators and representatives hit Zuckerberg with questions about the two African-American Trump supporters who have gained a following among Republicans. The questions were prompted by Facebook's removal of several videos posted by the North Carolina duo, who came to prominence during the 2016 presidential campaign and are among the handful of people the president follows on Twitter.
Multiple legislators wanted Zuckerberg to address what happened to Diamond and Silk's videos, part of a larger inquiry into whether Facebook and, more broadly, Silicon Valley stifled the views of conservatives. At least five members of Congress used their limited time -- senators got five minutes of questions apiece, while representatives got four -- to inquire about possible curbing of conservative voices, particularly those of the energetic sisters.
"Why is Facebook censoring conservative bloggers such as Diamond and Silk?" Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, wanted to know. "That is ludicrous."
Zuckerberg said his team had made an "enforcement error," a concept he trotted out more than once when explaining Facebook decisions. The social network was already in touch with Diamond and Silk, he promised.
Diamond and Silk might not quite be household names, but you'd never know that from their website. The ebullient self-promoters are "Vloggers, Bloggers, Public Figures & Speakers. Internet Sensation, Radio & TV Personality," according to their website's About Us page. "Last but not least they are President Trump's most Outspoken and Loyal Supporters."
Their birth names are Lynnette Hardaway (that's Diamond) and Rochelle Richardson (aka Silk), according to a Rolling Stone profile, and they're outspoken in their support for the president. They're also sure Facebook is censoring them.
On Monday night, the pair appeared on Fox News and accused Zuckerberg of "turning Facebook into a political playground for Democrats." They also tweeted a message they'd received from Facebook informing them that their "content and brand has been determined unsafe to the community."
A Facebook spokesperson said Wednesday night that the company had made a mistake.
"We have communicated directly with Diamond And Silk about this issue. The message they received last week was inaccurate and not reflective of the way we communicate with our community and the people who run Pages on our platform," the spokesperson said. "We have provided them with more information about our policies and the tools that are applicable to their Page and look forward to the opportunity to speak with them."
On Thursday morning, Diamond and Silk tweeted that they'd heard back from Facebook.
Diamond and Silk didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Like other social media platforms, Facebook is important to Diamond and Silk. Their page has more than 1.4 million followers, and their YouTube channel -- it's called The Viewers View -- boasts more than 142,000 subscribers. Their Twitter account has 641,000 followers and is one of just 45 .
The pair say they've been discussing "bias censorship" by Facebook against them since Sept. 7, 2017. A response on April 5 said Facebook considered them "unsafe."
That rankled congressional Republicans, starting on Tuesday when Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, invoked the sisters to launch an aggressive inquiry into Facebook's political leanings.
"To a great many Americans, that appears to be a pervasive pattern of political bias," Cruz told Zuckerberg. "Do you agree with that assessment?"
Zuckerberg told Cruz that Facebook doesn't censor content based on political views, though he acknowledged that Silicon Valley, where his company is headquartered, is an "extremely left-leaning place."
The inquiries continued on Wednesday, when Zuckerberg met with a House of Representatives committee. At least five members questioned him on Diamond and Silk.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, picked up the baton, slamming Zuckerberg over allegedly silencing the sisters.
"Let me tell you something right now, Diamond and Silk is not terrorism," Blackburn said in her last words before her allotted four minutes expired. She was referring to Zuckerberg's repeated statement that Facebook purged material that promoted terrorism or other forms of harm.
Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana and the House majority whip, also expressed concern about the status of Diamond and Silk's presence on Facebook. He wanted to know if Facebook had fired anyone because of the "enforcement error."
Zuckerberg said he didn't know.
Rep. Billy Long, a Republican from Missouri, demonstrated that he had obviously prepared ahead of time, with an aide holding a poster of Diamond and Silk behind him.
"What is unsafe about two black women supporting President Donald J. Trump?" he asked.
Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican from North Carolina, told Zuckerberg that he had to bring up Diamond and Silk again. He had good reason: The sisters live in the district he represents.
"My question is, what is the standard that Facebook uses to determine what is offensive or controversial?" he asked Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg said there were several standards, including hate speech and threats that would cause physical harm.
"The question of what is hate speech versus what is legitimate political speech is something we get criticized both from the left and the right on, [regarding] what the definitions are that we have. It's nuanced," Zuckerberg said.
Hudson's line of questioning undoubtedly pleased Diamond and Silk. But the rest of his district might have felt overlooked. He had reached out to his constituents before the hearing for suggestions on what to ask Zuckerberg, he told the Facebook CEO. Most requested that he find out how they could protect their personal privacy.
First published, April 11 at 1:22 p.m. PT.
Update, April 12 at 6:19 a.m. PT: Adds comment from a Facebook spokesperson and a new tweet from Diamond and Silk.
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