Facebook says it isn't anti-conservative when it comes to highlighting stories in its Trending Topics section. The world’s most popular social network’s comments were in response to a Gizmodo story that said Facebook’s human curators were often encouraged to suppress news stories and sources important to conservatives. This happened even when the story or outlet was trending—being shared a lot—among Facebook’s users, according to Gizmodo's story.
But Facebook says it’s all untrue. “We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true,” Tom Stocky, Facebook’s vice president of search, said in a statement on the social network.
The elephant not in the room
On Monday, Gizmodo published a follow-up to its earlier behind-the-scenes look at how Facebook employees and contractors curate the social network’s Trending Topics section. Introduced in 2014, Trending Topics is Facebook’s attempt to compete with Twitter as a source for as-it-happens news. One glance at the Trending box in the upper right corner of your news feed allows you to see what kind of news stories people are talking about on Facebook. Click on any topic link and you’ll land on a page with more information about the news subject.
Gizmodo’s report on Monday said that Facebook’s Trending Topics team was actively discouraging promoting stories and news sources that would appeal to conservatives. This could include anything from subjects like IRS officials accused of heavily scrutinizing conservative groups or popular stories on The Drudge Report.
Gizmodo’s story never explicitly claims that Facebook discouraged these stories and sources as part of an institutional policy. Instead,the biases of supervisors (or their lack of awareness about a given topic) would influence decisions to not highlight a news story or conservative outlet, the report said.
Hot story injection
Gizmodo also reported that Facebook would at times inject stories that were deemed important but weren’t yet trending on Facebook. Examples of purportedly injected stories included Black Lives Matter, Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, and the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in Paris in January 2015.
But Facebook says this is all nonsense. “We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so,” Stocky said in his post.
Why this matters: Trending Topics is a popular part of Facebook that puts news stories in front of millions and millions of people. Add human curation to a valuable piece of digital real estate and there will inevitably be controversy about how the section is managed. Whether or not Facebook employees were actively ignoring or supressing conservative stories, the company already appears to be making amends. As Gizmodo noted after publishing its story, Facebook was highlighting links from RedState.com and the Faith and Freedom Coalition covering the accusations of conservative news suppression.