FACT CHECK: 4 claims by Diamond and Silk at the social media congressional hearing

DCNFEmily Larsen, DCNF

Conservative commentators Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, sisters known as Diamond and Silk, faced allegations of perjury after testifying at a House Judiciary Committee hearing about social media filtering practices Thursday.

Here are four checks on their claims.

Claim 1: “We’ve never been paid by the Trump campaign,” Hardaway said.

Federal Election Commission records show that the Donald J. Trump for President campaign committee paid Diamond and Silk $1,274.94 on Nov. 22, 2016, for “field consulting.”

Richardson clarified later in the hearing that the payment was a reimbursement for plane tickets when the duo appeared at a campaign event. Campaign treasurer Bradley Crate told Slate that “the invoice was not supported by accompanying receipts, so as a technical matter, could not be reported as a reimbursement even though its purpose was to make them whole for their out-of-pocket costs.”

Claim 2: “Facebook censored our free speech,” Hardaway said.

The sisters point to Facebook not monetizing their page, deeming their content “unsafe” and restricting their page’s reach as evidence of censorship.

Hardaway said at the hearing that Facebook has not allowed the duo to monetize their content for six months. Emails first obtained by conservative commentator Erick Erickson show that Facebook did prevent the Diamond and Silk page from being monetized following the company’s introduction of Monetization Eligibility Standards in September. Facebook told the duo on April 9 that it is “eliminating the restrictions associated with your Page so that you can apply to monetize content.”

Facebook content that focuses on tragedies or content that is “incendiary” is not eligible for monetization. Some argue that these vague guidelines make it easy for the company to restrict conservative viewpoints.

Earlier in April, the sisters said that they received an email from Facebook on April 5 informing them that “the Policy team has came [sic] to the conclusion that your content and your brand has been determined unsafe to the community.” A few days later, Facebook acknowledged the email and told media outlets that the message was “inaccurate.” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in his congressional testimony on April 11 that the Facebook team made an “enforcement error.”

Hardaway and Richardson also claim that fans are having trouble following their page and that their content is not reaching as many people as it did in the past.

Changes in Facebook’s algorithm mean that the site’s news feed will prioritize content from friends and family over public content. Facebook also found that the Diamond and Silk Facebook page has “higher-than-normal clickbait scores” and will, therefore, reach fewer people.

The algorithm and rule changes are a core part of the sisters’ frustration. “It is not fair for somebody to change the rules in the middle of the game,” Hardaway said at the hearing.

Claim 3: “Mark Zuckerberg said that they [Facebook] was in direct communication with us like they had spoken to us. They did not do that,” Hardaway said.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee referenced the duo’s April 11 appearance on “The Ingham Angle” where they said that Facebook had not contacted them since the company deemed the Diamond and Silk page “unsafe.”

Hardaway said that the sisters received a Twitter message from Facebook on April 12, but no communication before that.

But the emails that Erickson obtained show that Facebook emailed the duo on April 9. “We sincerely apologize again for the mishandled communications and are available and eager to connect by phone to review outstanding questions you may have,” the email said. Facebook told CNN that it tried to contact Hardaway and Richardson by phone on twice April 10, and it used the official Facebook company account to comment on a Diamond and Silk Facebook post.

Claim 4: “Facebook labels individual accounts as either ‘liberal,’ ‘very liberal,’ ‘conservative’ or ‘very conservative’ … We cannot change it, we cannot correct it, we cannot update it, this has been a default setting set by Facebook on individual personal pages. With that setting set, if you cannot change it, then guess what, Facebook controls what you see,” Richardson said.

Facebook does automatically place users in ad categories, including political ideology, based on what pages users like. Users can remove themselves from any category by managing their ad preferences, but they cannot opt-in to specific ad categories.

Hardaway and Richardson are concerned that people are in the wrong categories since Facebook labeled them as “very liberal.” The women are former Democrats, so it is possible that their old likes and activity put them in a liberal category.

(Image: Screenshot)

Hardaway and Richardson did not respond to a request for comment.

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