Facebook Denies Allegations of Anti-Conservative Bias

Facebook responded to a report by Gizmodo in which former employees of the social network claimed that they were instructed to lower the reach of posts by conservative sites.

Facebook responded to a report by Gizmodo in which former employees of the social network claimed that they were instructed to lower the reach of posts by conservative sites.

A former journalist who worked on Facebook’s Trending Topics told Michael Nunez of Gizmodo that stories about conservative topics such as the Conservative Political Action Conference, Mitt Romney and Rand Paul were kept out of that section despite actually trending among the social network’s users, and other former news curators for Facebook told Nunez they were told to artificially add stories to Trending Topics even if they weren’t trending at all.

One former news curator told Nunez:

Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending. 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.

Another added:

It was absolutely bias. We were doing it subjectively. It just depends on who the curator is and what time of day it is. Every once in a while, a red state or conservative news source would have a story. But we would have to go and find the same story from a more neutral outlet that wasn’t as biased.

Facebook vice president of search Tom Stocky responded to the allegations in a post (embedded below):

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.

Trending Topics is designed to showcase the current conversation happening on Facebook. 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.

We are proud that, in 2015, the U.S. election was the most-talked-about subject on Facebook, and we want to encourage that robust political discussion from all sides. We have in place strict guidelines for our Trending Topics reviewers as they audit topics surfaced algorithmically: Reviewers are required to accept topics that reflect real-world events and are instructed to disregard junk or duplicate topics, hoaxes or subjects with insufficient sources. 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.

Readers: What do you think is going on?

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david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.