Facebook: ‘No evidence’ of suppressing conservative news

The Facebook executive who’s in charge of the social network’s Trending Topics — which are trending because of accusations of bias against conservative news — says the company has “found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true.”

Tom Stocky, vice president of search at Facebook, wrote a post Monday night responding to the allegations. Gizmodo reported earlier in the day that according to unnamed former contractors who curated for the Trending section — a section that’s separate from users’ main news feed — news from conservative publications was suppressed by other curators, and that some topics were “injected” into the section even though they weren’t trending.

“Facebook does not allow or advise our reviewers to systematically discriminate against sources of any ideological origin and we’ve designed our tools to make that technically not feasible,” Stocky wrote. “At the same time, our reviewers’ actions are logged and reviewed, and violating our guidelines is a fireable offense.”

Stocky also denied that topics such as the anti-police brutality movement Black Lives Matter were force-fed to Facebook users by way of the Trending section, as one former curator claimed to Gizmodo.

“We looked into that charge and found that it is untrue,” Stocky said. “We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so. Our guidelines do permit reviewers to take steps to make topics more coherent, such as combining related topics into a single event (such as ‪#‎starwars‬ and ‪#‎maythefourthbewithyou‬), to deliver a more integrated experience.”

The Gizmodo report, by the way, came on the heels of a report by the site last week about anonymous former curators for Facebook’s Trending section who said they “chose what was trending” with “no real standard” and were treated poorly by the company.

The allegations of liberal bias at Facebook, which has become a leading source of news, have given conservative media outlets ammunition.

“In a spirit of transparency and community, we invite Mark Zuckerberg to do a Facebook Live interview with Breitbart News Tech Editor Milo Yiannopoulos to explain to the tens of millions of conservatives on Facebook why they’re being discriminated against,” Alex Marlow, Breitbart editor-in-chief, told Politico. However, the right-leaning publications Politico talked with acknowledged they have no evidence of the discrimination. Marlow said Breitbart News has “remained in the top 25 Facebook publishers for six months.”

In addition, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus weighed in on Twitter Monday:

The GOP is asking people to add their names to a petition to “demand Facebook stop censoring conservatives.”

Meanwhile, in the light of all this, there are examinations galore of Facebook’s immense influence on the news. Pew Research’s most recent numbers showed that 4 in 10 U.S. adults get news on Facebook.

“Facebook has a First Amendment right to publish content in any way it wants, just as a newspaper or magazine publisher has a free hand in deciding what to print,” Ken Paulson, a former USA Today editor who directs the First Amendment Center in Tennessee, told Fortune.

Still, law professor Eugene Volokh told Fortune: “But it may well be very bad for Facebook’s business if it turns out that it was indeed making these selections based on the politics of the stories.”

The post by Facebook exec Stocky wanted to alleviate those concerns: “We will… keep looking into any questions about Trending Topics to ensure that people are matched with the stories that are predicted to be the most interesting to them, and to be sure that our methods are as neutral and effective as possible.”

Update: Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., has sent a letter asking CEO Mark Zuckerberg to answer detailed questions about Facebook’s Trending news section, including asking the social network to provide a copy of the guidelines Stocky referenced in his post. Thune also asks the company to provide a list “of all news stories removed from or injected into the Trending Topics section since January 2014.” Gizmodo has the letter, and The Hill reports that the company has received the letter and is reviewing it.

 

Photo from AFP/Getty Images

 

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  • Nick Cainski

    So do the Right Wingers want a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur done by say Fox News before any story
    is allowed to be printed?

  • Dave

    This Facebook controversy is all too “1984” Orwellian. Zuckerberg wants to be our “Big Brother” in control of our thinking process by restricting access to information. Why not simply get your news trends from a reliable source such Reuters or News Republic? You won’t see any Orwellian tactics going on at those sites.

  • lithium451

    Those poor right wingers, once again they are being victimized. Time for Congressional hearings.

  • Javahead

    Without weighing in on whether or not Facebook is tampering politically – would you expect the executive in charge of the group allegedly doing the tampering to claim otherwise?

    Even though I, usually, support the police I feel more likely to believe a third-party misconduct investigation finding no evidence of wrongdoing than an internal investigation. This isn’t even an internal investigation – it’s a statement by an executive.

    There’s been confirmation that other social media sites like Twitter are not at all even handed in their content management – and yes, in Twitter’s case, it *was* politically based. So – even if the accusations are unfounded – Facebook can expect some skepticism.

    • a reader

      Good points.

      From some experiments I ran, FB banned any political content, left or right didn’t matter. “ban” here is not true ban. It simply didn’t show on the feeds of friends. And if it was a newspaper comment hosted by FB, I could see it if I was logged in, but not otherwise. fwiw.

  • alrui

    Yeah right, there may be “no evidence” but I dont doubt for a second they did it and continue to feed people just what THEY want seen!

  • Sal Donovan

    Of course Facebook surpresses conservative news, as does the Mercury News. It has been done forever. These media venues see no responsibility to reports news other than the liberal democratic version.

 
 
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