Mark Zuckerberg, Justin Osofsky Address Facebook Trending Topics Controversy

Facebook continued to defend itself against allegations that it prevented conservative content from appearing in its Trending Topics.

Facebook continued to defend itself against allegations that it prevented conservative content from appearing in its Trending Topics.

Co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed the issue in a post (embedded below), and vice president of global operations Justin Osofsky did the same in a Newsroom post.

Zuckerberg wrote:

This week, there was a report suggesting that Facebook contractors working on Trending Topics suppressed stories with conservative viewpoints. We take this report very seriously and are conducting a full investigation to ensure that our teams upheld the integrity of this product.

We have found no evidence that this report is true. If we find anything against our principles, you have my commitment that we will take additional steps to address it.

In the coming weeks, I’ll also be inviting leading conservatives and people from across the political spectrum to talk with me about this and share their points of view. I want to have a direct conversation about what Facebook stands for and how we can be sure our platform stays as open as possible.

The reason I care so much about this is that it gets to the core of everything Facebook is and everything I want it to be. Every tool we build is designed to give more people a voice and bring our global community together. For as long as I’m leading this company, this will always be our mission.

And Osofsky added:

The Trending Topics team is governed by a set of guidelines meant to ensure a high-quality product, consistent with Facebook’s deep commitment to being a platform for people of all viewpoints. Our goal has always been to deliver a valuable experience for the people who use our service. The guidelines demonstrate that we have a series of checks and balances in place to help surface the most important popular stories, regardless of where they fall on the ideological spectrum. Facebook does not allow or advise our reviewers to discriminate against sources of any political origin, period. Here are the guidelines we use.

Potential Trending Topics are first surfaced by an algorithm that identifies topics that have recently spiked in popularity on Facebook (in other words, ones that have a high volume of mentions and a sharp increase in mentions over a short period of time). The Trending Topics algorithm also uses an external RSS website crawler to identify breaking events so that we can connect people to conversations on Facebook about newsworthy events as quickly as possible. A list of included websites is available here (embedded below).

Facebook Trending Topics RSS Feed List by David Cohen

Members of the Trending team look at potential Trending Topics as they are surfaced by the algorithm and do the following:

  • Confirm that the topic is tied to a current news event in the real world (for example, the topic “#lunch” is talked about during lunch every day around the world, but will not be a trending topic).
  • Write a topic description with information that is corroborated by reporting from at least three of a list of more than a thousand media outlets. A list of these media outlets is available here (embedded below).

Facebook Trending Topics Domains by David Cohen

  • Apply a category label to the topic (e.g. sports, science) to help with personalized ranking and to enable suggestions grouped by category for the various tabs on the desktop version.
  • Check to see whether the topic is national or global breaking news that is being covered by most or all of ten major media outlets—and if it is, the topic is given an importance level that may make the topic more likely to be seen. A list of these outlets is available in the guidelines (embedded below).

Facebook Trending Topics Review Guidelines by David Cohen

The list of Trending Topics is then personalized for each user via an algorithm that relies on a number of factors, including the importance of the topic, pages a person has liked, location (e.g.. home state sports news), feedback provided by the user about previous Trending Topics and what’s trending across Facebook overall. Not everyone sees the same topics at the same time.

When you click on a Trending Topic, you are taken to a search results page that includes all the news sources and posts that are covering the topic. The articles and posts that appear here are also surfaced algorithmically.

Trending is also integrated into Facebook Search so you can search for any Trending topic that may not show up in your Trending suggestions.

Readers: What are your thoughts on this controversy?