Facebook has denied claims that it censored conservative news from its Trending Topics section that displays viral stories.
Facebook has been under media scrutiny since a report from Gizmodo alleged that former Facebook contractors who worked as news curators suppressed conservative topics, such as Rand Paul and the right-wing Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Conservative media, such as Breitbart News’ editor in chief, Alex Marlow, lashed out at Facebook suggesting that these allegations confirm the suspicion that conservative news is ignored on the social media giant.
Other allegations include Facebook bias in injecting stories that weren’t viral enough to be included in trending news. The curator claims stories, such as Black Lives Matters and Syria, were deemed important “for making the network look like a place where people talked about hard news,” according to the report.
Tom Stocky, Vice President of Search at Facebook, released a statement on Tuesday denying the claims.
“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.”
Stocky added that the alleged censorship would not be “technically feasible” and that “reviewers’ actions are logged and reviewed.” He also denies that Facebook artificially injects stories to its trending feed.
These allegations suggest that Facebook operates in similar fashion to traditional media or publishing companies that often have a political alignment and editorial standards. However, Facebook represents itself as a neutral platform, and recent reports that Facebook will participate in both the RNC and DNC conventions so its users can engage in political discussions attest to that neutrality.
Whether Facebook has guidelines for curators or not, the Gizmodo report suggest that curators may implement their own personal bias when selecting the news by choosing topics of their own interest.
“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.”
Many Facebook users may have been under the impression that the trending topics displayed on Facebook were automated algorithms rather than selected new stories by contracted workers. Facebook claims what topics its users see “are based on a number of factors including engagement, timeliness, Pages you’ve liked and your location,” according to its help center.
Earlier this week, Gizmodo published another report that alleges more bias in Facebook trending topic selection. The curators interviewed state that they were told to select articles from traditional media outlets, such as the New York Times, and to avoid fringe media outlets like World Star Hip Hop and the Blaze.
Facebook isn’t a stranger to censorship, as Matthew Ingram at Fortune writes, “Sometimes it’s when Facebook removes a breastfeeding photo, or censors a page about the war in Syria.”
When discussing Facebook as a media entity, Fortune adds, “Facebook routinely says that it doesn’t see itself as a media entity, and doesn’t see its algorithmic choices as being of any concern to anyone outside the company—even when those choices help influence the way people think and behave, like whether they decide to vote and how they see political issues.”
How these allegations affect Facebook’s trust with its users is yet to be determined. Also, these claims may lead Facebook to make changes to its news feed, such as developing an algorithm rather than using human editors or scrutinizing the curation process more closely.
Read Tom Stocky’s full statement below.
[Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]