Facebook denies censoring right wing news from Trending Topics
Having been hit with allegations of censoring news from conservative outlets, Facebook has issued a strenuous denial. Gizmodo reported claims from former Facebook "news curators" that they were directed to not only suppress news from right wing sources, but also to "inject" stories into Trending Topics regardless of their actual popularity.
Suggestions that its Trending Topics are driven by a liberal agenda have been denied by Facebook. The social network says it "found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true", going on to say that while there is a review team in place, its guidelines "do [not] permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another".
Quoting unnamed former Facebook workers, Gizmodo says that "Facebook's news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation". Described as being "politically conservative" himself, the curator said: "I'd come on shift and I'd discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn't be trending because either the curator didn't recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz".
In response, Facebook's Tom Stocky says:
My team is responsible for Trending Topics, and I want to address today’s reports alleging that Facebook contractors manipulated Trending Topics to suppress stories of interest to conservatives. We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true.
Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum. There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality. These guidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives. Nor do they permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another. These guidelines do not prohibit any news outlet from appearing in Trending Topics.
He confirms the existence of a team of news staff, but these employees are tasked with very specific jobs:
Popular topics are first surfaced by an algorithm, then audited by review team members to confirm that the topics are in fact trending news in the real world and not, for example, similar-sounding topics or misnomers.
Stocky also addresses allegations that in addition to suppressing certain stories, Facebook also promotes stories that are in line with its own ideology:
There have been other anonymous allegations -- for instance that we artificially forced #BlackLivesMatter to trend. We looked into that charge and found that it is untrue. We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so. Our guidelines do permit reviewers to take steps to make topics more coherent, such as combining related topics into a single event (such as #starwars and #maythefourthbewithyou), to deliver a more integrated experience.
There will, of course, be suggestions that there is no smoke without fire, and that Facebook doth protest too much. But equally, Gizmodo's anonymous source needs to be questioned. Did he choose to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, or because the whole thing is made up? Is he a disgruntled ex-worker, or someone with a vested interest of his own?