Facebook Just Responded to Charges That It's Been Manipulating Political Coverage

Human Rights

Beyond forcing us all to bear witness to cringe-worthy political feuds between friends and family in our newsfeeds, Facebook also influences the political content we stumble upon in another huge way with the trending news bytes it offers on its right side bar, similar to Twitter. However, while Twitter features trending topics based on how many tweets they’re mentioned in, Gizmodo reported on Monday that Facebook trending curators manipulate political coverage to exclude conservative news, and just today, Tom Stocky, who is in charge of Facebook’s trending coverage team, denied these charges in a lengthy Facebook post.

For some useful background info, Gizmodo reported that, according to anonymous former Facebook employees, the social media outlet’s curators for trending news routinely did not cover trending, conservative-leaning topics such as the Conservative Political Action Conference, Steven Crowder of Fox News, and some news pertaining to former Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Scott Walker, and Rand Paul.

Gizmodo also reported that Facebook refrains from covering topics reported on by Breitbart and other conservative outlets until these topics are picked up by more mainstream sources. And while allegedly censoring out trending conservative news, Facebook’s curators covered significant events, albeit significant world news stories, that were not yet trending, which include the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, among other big stories, before they would go viral.

Late Monday night, Stocky denied these charges, writing that there was “no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true.”

Stocky went on, “Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum. There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality. These guidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives. … These guidelines do not prohibit any news outlet from appearing in Trending Topics.”

Stocky also denied charges that Facebook “artificially forced” topics like Black Lives Matter to trend, and clarified how trending topics are selected: “Popular topics are first surfaced by an algorithm, then audited by review team members to confirm that the topics are in fact trending news in the real world,” he wrote.

Whomever you choose to believe, on a related note, a company survey recently shared by Facebook employees with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that posed the question, “What responsibility does Facebook have to prevent President Trump in 2017?” is certainly thought-provoking. Facebook is so widely used, with more than one billion active accounts at the present, that the stories it covers and the angles these stories favor could potentially have tremendous influence on how people decide to vote, or who they side with.

These allegations come amidst both rising criticism of liberals for initiating a “war” on the right-wing’s free speech rights (aka, the right to say and do bigoted, douchey things without consequences, in many cases) due to “hypersensitivity,” and criticism of the media as a whole for its alleged bias favoring a liberal perspective.

Interestingly enough, what with all the press this controversy has been receiving, I half-expect to see Facebook make an appearance in its own trending news side bar.

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