Facebook trending news: Thumbs down on government involvement, plus is there really a bias?

The fallout from the allegations that Facebook suppressed conservative news from its Trending Topics section continues.

Gizmodo reported Monday that contractors who worked on curating news for the section failed to include news from right-leaning media outlets. Facebook said Tuesday it has found no evidence of the charges, which also included allegations that the curators were asked to artificially inject news that wasn’t actually trending.

The involvement of Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who on Tuesday sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seeking details about how the social network handles the trending section, isn’t sitting well with some of his fellow conservatives. Among other things, Thune is asking Facebook to provide a copy of its guidelines for the trending section, as well as a list of the stories that were allegedly suppressed since 2014.

“Duh! Mark Zuckerberg is a lib & Facebook has a liberal bias,” former GOP congressman turned radio host Joe Walsh tweeted. “Conservatives don’t get government involved. That’s not what we believe.” The Hill mentioned a handful of other conservatives who expressed similar sentiments.

So are we really seeing fewer articles from conservative sources on Facebook?

Not according to one analytics firm, which says articles from conservative news outlets are among the most widely shared on Facebook. New York-based NewsWhip says sites such as Fox News and Breitbart News “traditionally do very well,” the Huffington Post reports.

Note that the content in the Trending section is different from the news links Facebook users see on their main news feeds. (On the desktop, the Trending section is on the right side, in the same box that shows upcoming events and friends’ birthdays.)

NewsWhip’s March 2016 figures show that Fox News articles had right under 15 million likes, more than the about 11 million likes for BBC stories and about 8 million likes for CNN articles. Breitbart News had about 5 million likes, more than Vox’s 2 million likes. As for shares, Fox and BBC were tied with nearly 3 million, while CNN (right under 2 million) had more than Breitbart (right above 1.5 million) and Vox (under 1 million).

No matter whose numbers, accusations and denials you believe, Farhad Manjoo writes for the New York Times that this whole brouhaha is a reminder of Facebook’s growing influence on the media we consume, by the nature of its size and reach and the fact that most media outlets feed their content into it.

“Facebook is personalized, in that what you see on your News Feed is different from what I see on mine, so the only entity in a position to look for systemic bias across all of Facebook is Facebook itself,” Manjoo writes. And he points out the obvious: Algorithms, which supposedly determine what each of us sees in our feeds, are created by humans.

“With Facebook, humans are never not involved,” Robyn Caplan, a research analyst at Data & Society, told the NYT. “Humans are in every step of the process — in terms of what we’re clicking on, who’s shifting the algorithms behind the scenes, what kind of user testing is being done, and the initial training data provided by humans.”

Meanwhile, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump said he hasn’t seen evidence of bias on Facebook, where he has almost 8 million followers. But if the allegations are true, Trump said “that would be terrible.”


Photo from Associated Press


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  • menlodesign

    Facebook – All the news that Mark Zuckerberg wants you to know! Curated!