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Conservatives are convinced that Silicon Valley is out to silence them on social media. Do they have a point?

TECH

@alexnazaryan

Photo illustration by MAX-O-MATIC
DMITRY EROKHIN/ALAMY

“Spy exchanges are a bargain—both sides pay a price to get their people back.”

CONSERVATIVES HAVE LONG BEEN CERTAIN that Silicon Valley despised them, that its cadres of Stanford-trained engineers regarded the right with derision and disgust. In the spring of 2016, they found something that seemed to be proof of that suspicion. Six months before the presidential election, technology news website Gizmodo published a scoop: News curators at Facebook, one former such curator alleged, suppressed stories from right-leaning outlets, in what amounted to a “chilling effect” on conservative media.

In response to the outcry, Facebook dumped its human editors, who had the power to either extend or curtail the reach of any news item. Within days, the network was overwhelmed by a surge of fake news, precisely the kind that human editors were supposed to filter out. An algorithm might have a difficult time figuring out whether Hillary Clinton had once worked to free Black Panthers charged with murder. But a human editor would have needed perhaps 30 seconds to confirm that she had not— and that allowing the story to trend would be a public disservice.

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THE FALL OF KING BIBI? When Benjamin Netanyahu visited Washington earlier this month, it should have been a political triumph, a moment of exultation. For most of his twelve years in power, the hawkish Israeli prime minister was forced to work with presidents who despised him, left-leaning Democrats who talked about settlements and Palestinian statehood. Now, he has Donald Trump. Their March 5 meeting at the White House was the first since the U.S. announced plans to relocate the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem this spring. Israeli politicians had long demanded the move; Netanyahu was the one to deliver it. And yet the whole trip was spoiled from the start. Hours before Netanyahu met with Trump, Israelis learned that one of the prime minister’s closest advisers had turned against him. Nir Hefetz, a former journalist, has been described as “Netanyahu’s spin doctor,” the man responsible for massaging press coverage of the first couple. But after Hefetz’s arrest in February, he agreed to turn state’s evidence and hand over recordings of the Netanyahus discussing an alleged criminal conspiracy. If a series of corruption scandals force Netanyahu out of office, he will leave behind a country that is deeply, perhaps irreparably, divided.
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