Social media giant Facebook is denying reports that its staffers responsible for curating which news stories appear under the popular trending stories section censored conservative news web sites like LifeNews.com in favor of web sites run by liberal, pro-abortion mainstream media outlets.
As LifeNews reported yesterday, former Facebook workers admit having suppressed conservative news stories on the mammoth social media web site in favor of articles from the liberal mainstream media.
Contractors who worked as “curators” for Facebook’s trending topics section, which puts the topnews stories at the fingertips of users of the social media web site, regularly censored stories trending among Facebook members who are conservatives, according to a Monday report from Gizmodo.
In the interviews, a former Facebook curator told Gizmodo that topics popular with conservatives were not included on the trending list. The conservative Facebook contractor speculated that the person running the list “didn’t recognize the news topic” or was biased against a conservative figure involved.
Another former curator told Gizmodo that if a story originated on a conservative news website, like LifeNews.com, curators would look for a link to the story from a liberal media web site to place in the trending list instead. Such decisions would suppress traffic to web sites like LifeNews and other conservative and pro-life web sites.
Facebook did not respond for comment to the original story at Gizmodo, but posted a response on its own web site, according to the Wall Street Journal:
Tom Stocky, Facebook’s vice president for search and the person responsible for the trending feature, defended the company’s practices and said it found “no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true.”
Mr. Stocky, in a statement on Facebook’s website, said that popular topics are first surfaced by an algorithm before being audited by a review team to confirm that the topics are “in fact trending news in the real world and not, for example, similar-sounding topics or misnomers.”
Mr. Stocky added that the presidential election was the most talked-about subject on Facebook last year, and that the company encourages “robust political discussion from all sides.”
A representative from Gizmodo, owned by Gawker Media, wasn’t immediately reachable for comment.
Following the report, the Republican National Committee criticized Facebook, calling out the social network for censorship.
“With 167 million U.S. Facebook users reading stories highlighted in the trending section, Facebook has the power to greatly influence the presidential election,” the RNC said on its website. “It is beyond disturbing to learn that this power is being used to silence view points and stories that don’t fit someone else’s agenda.”
Mr. Stocky noted that Facebook’s trending feature has been criticized before, such as allegations that the social network injected #BlackLivesMatter into the section when it wasn’t actually trending on the site.
“We looked into that charge and found that it is untrue,” he said.
Several former Facebook “news curators,” as they were known internally, also told Gizmodo that they were instructed to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all. The former curators, all of whom worked as contractors, also said they were directed not to include news about Facebook itself in the trending module.
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In other words, Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing—but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.”
These new allegations emerged after Gizmodo last week revealed details about the inner workings of Facebook’s trending news team—a small group of young journalists, primarily educated at Ivy League or private East Coast universities, who curate the “trending” module on the upper-right-hand corner of the site. As we reported last week, curators have access to a ranked list of trending topics surfaced by Facebook’s algorithm, which prioritizes the stories that should be shown to Facebook users in the trending section. The curators write headlines and summaries of each topic, and include links to news sites. The section, which launched in 2014, constitutes some of the most powerful real estate on the internet and helps dictate what news Facebook’s users—167 million in the US alone—are reading at any given moment.