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Facebook Under Fire Over Claims It Suppressed Conservative News

Facebook workers suppressed conservative news reports from the social network’s influential 'trending' news section, says a former 'news curator' for the company.  (Image: Pixabay/CC0 1.0)
Facebook workers suppressed conservative news reports from the social network’s influential 'trending' news section, says a former 'news curator' for the company. (Image: Pixabay/CC0 1.0)

Several former contactors who worked for Facebook have accused the social media giant of injecting stories into its trending news section and for suppressing conservative news sites or topics.

The former staff who worked as “new curators” spoke anonymously with the Gizmodo design and technology blog saying that they were told to artificially inject selected news reports into Facebook’s trending section.

Facebook claims that it is a news report’s popularity among Facebook users is what gets it into the trending section, but the former college educated contractors who spoke with Gizmodo begged to differ.

“I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC [Conservative Political Action Conference] 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,” said one the former curators who said he was politically conservative, which made him part of a small minority in the trending team.

The source also gave a long list of topics that could not be included in the trending section, which included news on former IRS official Lois Lerner, who was accused by Republicans of improperly scrutinizing conservative groups, and anything by former Fox News contributor Steven Crowder who now has his own online program.

Watch a wrap-up of the allegations here in this video from Gizmodo:

News about Facebook itself was also not allowed in the trending section, the sources said.

One of the anonymous curators however said there was no evidence that Facebook management authorized or was even conscious that any political bias was at play.

But managers of the trending news team did tell the curators to inject stories into the trending stories that weren’t actually trending, the source said. One of those stories that was injected was the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter,” the former contractor said. “They realized it was a problem, and they boosted it in the ordering. They gave it preference over other topics.”

Gizmodo said that they repeatedly reached out to the social media giant for a response to the allegations.

The tech website said they got no reply.

Facebook management instead issued statements to other media about the claims, Gizmodo said.

A long statement was posted on Facebook by Tom Stocky, the company’s vice president of search on Monday. It was a post liked by both chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer.

“Facebook does not allow or advise our reviewers to systematically discriminate against sources of any ideological origin and we’ve designed our tools to make that technically not feasible. At the same time, our reviewers’ actions are logged and reviewed, and violating our guidelines is a fireable offense,” Stocky said.

He fully denied the allegations that stories — such as Black Lives Matters — are injected or that the trending team suppresses news.

“We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so,” Stocky wrote.

Watch this Wall Street Journal video report on five things that you need to know about Facebook’s trending controversy:

But The Guardian published details on Thursday of leaked guidelines used by Facebook that show that its trending news section is manipulated. The report stated that Facebook stepped back from a pure-algorithm approach in 2014 after it was criticized for not covering the Fergusson race riots. The guidelines showed that the curators could inject news into the trending section if it was deemed newsworthy.

The Guardian said that Facebook’s guidelines are comparable to a traditional news organizations, with a style guide reminiscent of the Associated Press guide, which is widely used by news rooms.

Facebook co-founder Zuckerberg finally weighed into the issue of trending topics on Thursday with a 309 word statement via his Facebook page.

“We have found no evidence that this report [by Gizmodo] is true. If we find anything against our principles, you have my commitment that we will take additional steps to address it,” Zuckerberg wrote in part.

He has also called to have dialogue with conservatives over the trending topics controversy.

In response to the media reports on the issue a top U.S. Senate Republican, John Thune, a party leader and chairman of the Senate commerce committee, has demanded that Facebook explain itself.  Facebook replied saying that they are conducting an investigation into the matter.

For a conservative news view on the controversy see this report from Fox News:

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