Facebook workers routinely prevented conservative news from trending – former employee

© Beck Diefenbach
Facebook’s news team routinely prevented conservative news stories from appearing in the social media giant’s astronomically influential ‘Trending’ news section, according to a report.

According to a Monday report from Gizmodo, a former Facebook contractor who worked as a 'news curator' for the social media giant said that other workers would remove right-wing topics such as Mitt Romney, Rand Paul and the Conservative Political Action Conference from making the site’s Trending news list, even though they were popular enough to qualify.

The Trending section sits on the right-hand side of Facebook users’ home pages, and stories usually enter the list based on an algorithm which automatically determines which stories are shared and discussed by people on the site. Sitting on prime Facebook real estate, its influence is enormous: 167 million people in the US and Canada alone log on to the site every day.

“Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,” the former curator 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,” he added.

The former journalist said that curators were also instructed to further manipulate the section by artificially boosting certain stories which wouldn’t otherwise be considered trending.

A second former curator told Gizmodo that they agreed that the trending news team’s behavior was “absolutely bias[ed],” since curators often attempted to replace stories that had been trending from RedState with similar ones from less conservative outlets.

Trending topics that had only been covered by right-leaning sources would be completely removed from the section, since there were no available mainstream sources to replace them.

The person gave examples of the Drudge Report, Wisconsin Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker, and Lois Lerner – the Internal Revenue Service official who drew the ire of Republicans for targeting conservative groups – as being topics that were squelched.  

Other Facebook curators Gizmodo spoke to denied that they consciously suppressed conservative viewpoints, leaving the blog “unable to determine if left-wing news topics or sources were similarly suppressed."

Facebook, however, rebuffed the allegations levied against it.

“We take allegations of bias very seriously,” the network's head of search Tom Stocky wrote. “Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives across the political spectrum. Trending Topics shows you the popular topics and hashtags that are being talked about on Facebook. There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review to ensure consistency and neutrality.”

“These guidelines do not permit the suppression of one viewpoint or another or one news outlet or another,” the statement continued. “These guidelines do not prohibit any news outlet from appearing in Trending Topics.”

“We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so,” Stocky stressed.

Several hours after Gizmodo published its report, that very story appeared near the top of Facebook's Trending section.

Facebook has always insisted that it is a politically neutral platform, and the latest reports are likely to further increase scrutiny on the company’s colossal power over the flow of information. Eyebrows were raised last month, when founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg took a jab at Donald Trump and criticized "fearful voices calling for building walls" during a company conference last month.

A separate article written by Gizmodo last Tuesday found that Facebook’s curators are hired as contractors rather than employees, and are usually taken from Ivy League schools or other elite private schools on the East Coast.

Facebook and many others have been criticized for lack of transparency in their algorithms. Many, including the US Federal Trade Commission have been concerned about whether this is a good thing, and that agency even established an office specifically dedicated to shining some light on how ubiquity.

“One of the problems is that algorithms are increasingly mediating the media and information that we’re exposed to, which can have implications for things like politics,” Nick Diakopoulos, a professor in the University of Maryland’s College of Journalism, told PC World in 2015, adding that algorithms are increasingly used to facilitate censorship.