Facebook has shut down allegations that the team responsible for the trending topics section is biased and deliberately suppressing conservative content in a press release and letter sent to John Thune, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, on Monday.
As the Guardian reports, Colin Stretch, General Counsel at Facebook, said the company had a meeting with Thune on May 18 to discuss the allegations, which had spanned a two-week investigation. He revealed that “virtually identical” rates of approval for liberal and conservative topics were found after the investigations were conducted.
— SocialTimes (@SocialTimes) May 24, 2016
Stretch admitted that the investigation “could not fully exclude the possibility of isolated improper or unintentional bias” and would make the necessary adjustments to the trending topics section to “minimize risks where human judgment is involved.”
“Suppressing political content or preventing people from seeing what matters most to them is directly contrary to our mission and our business objectives, and the allegations troubled us deeply.”
The allegations were made on May 9 by a former “news curator” on the trending topics team. Chairman Thune had demanded a response from Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg.
Mark Zuckerberg acknowledges trust gap after meeting conservatives about “Facebook bias” https://t.co/ZeBHT06Ph6 pic.twitter.com/B8OCUK5Isi
— Bloomberg (@business) May 19, 2016
The trending topics section is located in the upper right corner of the Facebook website, isolated from the main news feed. It is meant to help people discover the most current, popular, and meaningful content in the world. The topics are picked through a combination of staff choice and algorithms.
In a letter sent to Thune, Facebook said the reason why the human factor still played a role in trending topics was to use people to close the gap between what an algorithm could do presently and in the nearest future. The allegations of bias towards conservative issues prompted Zuckerberg to attend a meeting with conservative commentators and clarify issues.
Stretch revealed that the internal investigative team spoke to past and present reviewers, supervisors, and prominent conservatives to get valuable insight and feedback. He said that findings revealed that there was no proof of political bias either in the topics that were picked or in the importance of stories that were included in the section.
“We were also unable to substantiate allegations of politically motivated suppression of particular subjects or sources,” he said.
The letter addressed to the chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee referred to instances of alleged anti-conservative bias that had been accepted on numerous occasions. The topics included topics ushered by Republican political figures Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, and Ted Cruz. The letter went on to clarify that the two most repeatedly accepted topics of early 2015 were the #GOPDebate and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
The letter pointed out the analysis coverage of late Navy Seal Chris Kyle, former IRS official Lois Lerner, the Drudge Report, radio host Glenn Beck, comedian Steven Crowder, and the Conservative Political Action Conference as conservative news stories that trended without interference or suppression in any manner.
Facebook revealed that their guidelines had been clarified even further and that reviewers had gone for refresher courses. The company added that content decisions made on the basis of politics or ideology would no longer be entertained. The general counsel said that Facebook was also going to put a stop to using news outlets and external websites to determine the significance of a story.
Thune, in a statement, said he was glad Facebook addressed the allegations of bias promptly and provided information that eased his concerns over a lack of transparency.
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