Facebook Censorship Controversy Prompts Inquiry From U.S. Senate

Robert Jonathan

Allegations against Facebook that its trending news curators routinely censored or suppressed conservative-oriented topics have prompted a formal inquiry from the U.S. Senate.

Tech website Gizmodo on Monday published the accusations of what amounts to liberal bias in the social network's influential trending news feed, which is or was supposedly automatically compiled by an algorithm.

Facebook has categorically denied the Gizmodo scoop.

According to what an unnamed whistleblower told Gizmodo, however, right-leaning topics were manually prevented from showing up in the Facebook trending section, despite actually organically trending among users of the world's largest social media site, the Inquisitr previously explained.

The Gizmodo piece described the Facebook procedures that allegedly blacklisted news that would be of interest to politically conservative (and presumably non-conservative) readers, according to the insider.

"The former curator was so troubled by the omissions that they kept a running log of them at the time; this individual provided the notes to Gizmodo. Among the deep-sixed or suppressed topics on the list: former IRS official Lois Lerner, who was accused by Republicans of inappropriately scrutinizing conservative groups; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; popular conservative news aggregator the Drudge Report; Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL who was murdered in 2013; and former Fox News contributor Steven Crowder...Another former curator agreed that the operation had an aversion to right-wing news sources."

Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota), the committee chair, sent a letter to Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg that asks several detailed questions about the news feed controversy, including "What steps is Facebook taking to investigate claims of politically motivated manipulation of news stories in the Trending Topics section? If such claims are substantiated, what steps will Facebook take to hold the responsible individuals accountable?" Thune gave Zuckerberg a May 24 deadline to respond to the committee.

Facebook has indicated that it will address Sen. Thune's questions.

"My team is responsible for Trending Topics, and 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...There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality. These guidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives..."
"Facebook can and will dispute the specifics of these claims, as the company's vice president of search, Tom Stocky, did in a Facebook post Tuesday morning. But they're missing the point entirely. Facebook's problem is not that its 'curators' are biased. Facebook's problem is that it refuses to admit that they're biased—or even really human. The Senate inquiry is pure political theater, a delicious opportunity for Republican politicians to fuel conservatives' media-persecution complex....Yet Facebook brought this on itself by deliberately obscuring the process behind its Trending section and pretending to have a neutrality that its underpaid nonemployees couldn't possibly earn."

"Facebook employees as individuals have donated more than $114,000 to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton this election cycle, by far the most of any presidential candidate," The Hill added.

Nunez also explained that Gizmodo gave Facebook three days pre-publication notice to respond to the allegations, but never heard anything back.

"There's nothing wrong with Facebook having an editorial board and choosing what the topics are, but they have to be transparent about it. You can't call that a trending news section if these topics aren't legitimately trending in the first place," he asserted.

"The White House has held more meetings with lobbyists for Google than any other top company, and nearly 250 employees have reportedly gone through the 'revolving door' between the Obama administration and the technology company," the Washington Free Beacon separately reported.

"If Facebook decided to, it could gradually remove any pro-Trump stories or media off its site—devastating for a campaign that runs on memes and publicity," Gizmodo reported at the time.

"A Facebook spokesman insisted it would remain a neutral platform open to all parties and campaigns," the New York Post noted.

Joking that some are calling this controversy "Trend-ghazi," FNC media analyst Howard Kurtz told Megyn Kelly (see clip below) that "fiddling with the formula...amounts to cooking the digital books if true," but that the federal government should stay out of editorial decisions made by private media companies (which also have First Amendment protections ).

"As troubling as these allegations are to me, I don't want the government mucking around in this." Kurtz also insisted that Facebook should conduct an aggressive internal investigation into the matter.

[Photo by Joerg Koch/AP]