Facebook Controls What Its Viewers See, Censors ‘Trending’ Stories It Finds Distasteful, Say Former Employees

Facebook, the social media site used by over 1.59 billion users around the world according to Statista, added a “Trending News” section in 2014. But contrary to what Facebook’s viewers might be led to believe, it may not actually be trending; rather, Facebook censors the news topics its users can see, in part so that certain viewpoints will not be accessed, the tech blog Gizmodo revealed.

In conversations with five former members of Facebook’s trending news team — or “news curators,” as they are called internally — Gizmodo discovered that they had to do undergo “grueling work conditions, humiliating treatment, and a secretive, imperious culture in which they were treated as disposable outsiders.”

For instance, they were not permitted to partake in festivities that Facebook routinely put on for its official employees.

These “news curators” also had to follow specific guidelines when deciding what “trending topics” Facebook viewers would see. For instance, they were told to use only “preferred” media sources like the New York Times, Time, and Variety, and were apparently encouraged to avoid right-leaning sites like TheBlaze, Breitbart, and others, even if the information they contained was trending.

Gizmodo also wrote that Facebook’s “news curators” have power to censor stories for any reason.

“News curators also have the power to ‘deactivate’ (or blacklist) a trending topic—a power that those we spoke to exercised on a daily basis. A topic was often blacklisted if it didn’t have at least three traditional news sources covering it, but otherwise the protocol was murky—meaning a curator could ostensibly blacklist a topic without a particularly good reason for doing so.”

After determining what the “trending” stories would be — from the “preferred” news sources — the curators would write headlines for these stories, a brief, three-sentence summary, and then select an image that Facebook viewers would see. The curator would then pick the “most substantive post,” or news story, for Facebook users to link to if they want more information.

The Federalist, a politically conservative news organization, responded to Facebook’s alleged censoring of what its viewers see.

“Facebook’s deliberate blacklisting of conservative content and conservative outlets, as revealed by its own news curators in charge of the process, shouldn’t come as any surprise. The only thing that is surprising is why conservatives would trust organizations like Facebook to provide honest and unbiased accounts of what’s happening in the world.”

Bad Work Conditions for Facebook News Curators

Gizmodo added that the “news curators” were never officially Facebook employees; they were private contractors.

“We were housed in a conference room for two-and-a-half months,” one former Facebook curator said, upon condition of anonymity — as Gizmodo explained, they were concerned about “violating their non-disclosure agreements with Facebook.”

Facebook Censors What Its Viewers See

The “Trending News” operation on Facebook quickly “started to look more and more like the worst stereotypes of a digital media content farm.” For instance, Facebook managers gave them quotas, and even told them to finish them under time constraints.

One former Facebook curator said that most of the originals were fresh out of journalism school, and most no longer work for Facebook.

Gizmodo also noted that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg “has been transparent about his goal to monopolize digital news distribution.”

What do you think of Facebook’s “Trending News” policy?

[Image by Chris Jackson/Getty Images]