A former journalist who used to work at Facebook has revealed that news curators at the social media company regularly blocked conservative stories from trending.
In an interview with Gizmodo published Monday morning, this former journalist said that stories about CPAC, Mitt Romney and Rand Paul, among other topics, were not allowed to “trend” on Facebook, despite the fact that these stories met all the criteria for a story to be listed as highly influential.
In fact, not only did news curators apparently block conservative news sites, they also regularly boosted unpopular stories into the trending news feed, so as to push a narrative.
This practice occurs even though Facebook maintains it only curates stories that become popular on their own.
“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,” the former curator added.
Whenever a conservative news outlet would break a story, curators would see if they could find that same story on other more liberal sites. They would then link that site, instead of the conservative one.
However, it seems this practice was a function of individual bias at Facebook, rather than the result of a directive coming from management, with the exception of instructions to make stories trend that weren’t popular enough to do so on their own..
“Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter,” the curator told Gizmodo. “They realized it was a problem, and they boosted it in the ordering. They gave it preference over other topics. When we injected it, everyone started saying, ‘Yeah, now I’m seeing it as number one.'”
A previous piece from Gizmodo found that these curators were contractors, not employees, and were hired from elite Ivy League schools, in addition to other private schools on the east coast.
Facebook had little to say in response to the story Gizmodo broke last Tuesday, commenting, “We don’t comment on rumor or speculation. As with all contractors, the trending review team contractors are fairly compensated and receive appropriate benefits.”
Facebook has released a new statement which reiterates much of what the company has said earlier, but also expands to talk about so-called “injected” content into the trending feature. The company denies artificially boosting Black Lives Matter stories. Additionally, violating guidelines is deemed a fireable offense.
“There have been other anonymous allegations — for instance that we artificially forced #BlackLivesMatter to trend. We looked into that charge and found that it is untrue. 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.”
“We have in place strict guidelines for our trending topic reviewers as they audit topics surfaced algorithmically: reviewers are required to accept topics that reflect real world events, and are instructed to disregard junk or duplicate topics, hoaxes, or subjects with insufficient sources. 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. At the same time, our reviewers’ actions are logged and reviewed, and violating our guidelines is a fireable offense.”
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