As Mark Zuckerberg was in Washington, preparing to testify before Congress, two popular pro-President Trump vloggers who go by “Diamond and Silk” accused Facebook of censoring them for their political views. By Wednesday, when Zuckerberg sat before the House, that accusation had gone viral on the right-wing Internet. At least four members of the House asked Zuckerberg about them.
“I’d like to show you right now a little picture here. You recognize these folks?” Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) asked, as a staffer held up a giant, poster-size photograph of Lynette (“Diamond”) Hardaway and Rochelle (“Silk”) Richardson.
“I do,” Zuckerberg said. “I believe, is that Diamond and Silk?”
“That is Diamond and Silk, two biological sisters from North Carolina. I’d like to point out that they’re African American, and their content was deemed by your folks to be ‘unsafe.’ ” Long said.
He then read out, verbatim, a question from the vloggers for Zuckerberg: “What is ‘unsafe’ about two black women supporting Donald J. Trump?”
“Well, Congressman, nothing is unsafe about that,” Zuckerberg said. He added that he’d probably know more about what happened if he wasn’t preparing for a hearing on privacy.
Diamond and Silk came up again and again in the hearings. On Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) used their complaint as an example of “a pervasive pattern of political bias.” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) finished her time by telling Zuckerberg that “Diamond and Silk is not terrorism.” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) called them “Silk and Diamond,” before moving on to larger accusations about conservative bias at Facebook.
Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) read a question from a constituent: “Please ask Mr. Zuckerberg, why is Facebook censoring conservative bloggers such as Diamond and Silk? Facebook called them ‘unsafe to the community.’ That is ludicrous. They hold conservative views. That isn’t unsafe.”
In response to that question, Zuckerberg said the Facebook team “made an enforcement error.”
Diamond and Silk, already regular commentators on Fox News, were having a moment. Their names trended on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon. Roseanne Barr threw her support behind them.
On the right-wing Internet, being “tough” on Zuckerberg at the privacy hearings meant asking him about Diamond and Silk. Cambridge Analytica was almost an afterthought.
Diamond and Silk say someone at Facebook sent them a message that said, “The Policy team has came to the conclusion that your content and your brand has been determined unsafe to the community,” which is where they first got the idea that there was bias against them. In a statement sent to The Washington Post Tuesday, Facebook spokeswoman Sarah Pollack said that the message was “inaccurate and not reflective of the way we communicate with our community,” and that Facebook had already reached out to them with more information.
The pair first accused Facebook of wrongdoing on Friday night, in a post on Facebook to their 1.4 million followers. The post has more than 100,000 likes and 60,000 shares. Essentially, Diamond and Silk accused the platform of hiding notifications to their followers, and showing their Facebook posts to fewer people, limiting their reach. They wrote that they spent months trying to get Facebook to explain what happened, until they received the email calling them “unsafe.”
Some of what they experienced could be accounted for by a broader series of changes to Facebook’s algorithms that have reduced engagement for publishers across the entire platform. Zuckerberg’s admission of an “enforcement error” also seems to strongly suggest that something happened to their account, specifically.
But the bigger accusation — that is, that Diamond and Silk were targeted because of their political beliefs — doesn’t have to be bulletproof to be viral: It comes in the context of a broader belief among many right-leaning online communities that there’s a conspiracy among big Silicon Valley companies to censor their views. This idea stretches back years. And when a figure emerges whose experience seems to prove that accusation, that person becomes a right-wing folk hero.
In August, James Damore was fired from Google for writing a memo that, the company said, perpetuated “gender stereotypes.” What happened to him was, from the perspective of the right-wing Internet, a fulfilled prophecy, something they expect a company like Google to do to conservatives. And when a Damore or a Diamond and Silk cross over into the mainstream, it becomes an opportunity to evangelize.
Damore’s firing — and then, tech companies’ crackdown on hate speech following the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville later that month — launched a surprising movement among right-wing tech leaders to regulate companies like Facebook, which they believe are too biased against conservatives to properly moderate content on their own. This, and not Cambridge Analytica, has been the reason many conservatives wanted Zuckerberg in the hot seat.