By Bronte Price, PoliticKING
According to a former Facebook employee, the company routinely suppressed conservative news stories from the “trending” news section, which many people use as their source of news.
The workers, known as Facebook “news curators,” reportedly prevented stories about the conservative CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other right-wing topics from appearing in the trending section, even though the topics were organically trending among Facebook’s users. Facebook claims that the trending function simply lists “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.” The trending section launched in 2014, influences what Facebook users are reading, and what they believe are the most popular topics on the site.
Several former news curators also reported that they were instructed to artificially “inject” certain stories into the trending section, even if they weren’t popular enough to trend organically. In some cases, the injected stories weren’t trending at all to begin with. They were also reportedly directed to not include news about Facebook in the trending section.
Ex-staffers accuse Facebook of suppressing conservative news from trending topics--could really hurt its credibility https://t.co/k5E2L62ez4
— HowardKurtz (@HowardKurtz) May 9, 2016
The online news source, Gizmodo revealed these allegations last week, detailing the inner workings of Facebook’s trending news team. The team is reportedly a small group of young journalists who are mostly educated at Ivy League or private East Coast universities. They are given access to a list of trending topics ranked by Facebook’s algorithm, which prioritizes stories that should be shown to Facebook users in the trending section and then take those stories and write headlines and summaries of each topic. They also include links to news sites for more information about the stories.
One former curator described how the standards changed according to who was working. “Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,” the former Facebook employee said.
This former employee was one of only a few conservative curators on the trending team. “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,” the former curator continued. “I believe it had a chilling effect on conservative news.”
Another former curator agreed that the trending team was bias against conservative topics. “It was absolutely bias[ed]. We were doing it subjectively. It just depends on who the curator is and what time of day it is,” said the former curator. “Every once in awhile a Red State or conservative news source would have a story. But we would have to go and find the same story from a more neutral outlet that wasn’t as biased.”
“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,” one former curator said. “If it looked like it had enough news sites covering the story, we could inject it, even if it wasn’t naturally trending.”
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