Facebook eliminates list of news outlets in new trending guidelines
The company responds to Senate committee chair who demanded answers after Gizmodo story accused the popular social network of political bias in its news Trending feature
Facebook has responded to the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee John Thune about the social network’s news guidelines, saying that they would, going forward, no longer use a set list of some ten news sites ” to identify, validate or assess the importance of particular topics.”
The changes are outlined in a 12-page letter sent to Sen. Thune by Colin Stretch, Facebook General Counsel.
Facebook was forced into responding to the Senate committee following the publication of a story by Gizmodo that included anonymous interviews with former Facebook staffers who complained that the news trends feature was biased against conservatives.
“Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,” a former curator for Facebook told Gizmodo. “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.”
“I believe it had a chilling effect on conservative news,” the former curator said.
The trending review team at Facebook were not actual staffers, but contractors are hired and supervised by the management consulting firm Accenture, which also supplied the supervisors. The Accenture supervisors report to Facebook employees.
Though the former staffers that worked in this area may have believed that represented bias, at no time did they mention any corporate edicts to suppress news from any conservative websites, only that their fellow workers seemed more liberal than them. This distance between Facebook and the team doing the work likely will help Facebook tamp down any lingering criticism over the trending issue.
But one issue did seem to cause concern, though: that Facebook included a list of news outlets in its guidelines. This short list relied heavily on traditional news outlets such as The New York Times, which would limit the variety of reporting that would make the Trending list.
“We were told that if we saw something, a news story that was on the front page of these ten sites, like CNN, The New York Times, and BBC, then we could inject the topic,” a Facebook curator told Gizmodo.
“Our investigation has revealed no evidence of systematic political bias in the selection or prominence of stories included in the Trending Topics feature,” wrote Stretch to the Senate committee chair. “Our data analysis indicated that conservative and liberal topics are approved as trending topics at virtually identical rates. We were also unable to substantiate any of the specific allegations of politically-motivated suppression of particular subjects or sources. In fact, we confirmed that most of the subjects mentioned in media reports were included as trending topics on multiple occasions.”
“Suppressing political content or preventing people from seeing what matters most to them is directly contrary to Facebook’s mission and our business objectives,” wrote Stretch.