Facebook flat out denies any bias in Trending Topics

Steven Loeb · May 9, 2016 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/454e

A former contractor had accused the company of bias against conservatives on its Trending Topics bar

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The big news on the Internet on Monday, as you probably saw, was the confession, from a former Facebook contractor, that those curating the "Trending Topics" sidebar would routinely prevent stories from conservative news outlets from appearing due to political bias. 

The report, which was published in Gizmodo, set off a firestorm of criticism. Now Facebook is finally responding to the allegation, with Tom Stocky, Vice President of Search at Facebook, writing a post late Monday, in which he denied that any such bias had occurred.

"We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true," he said, citing the "rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality."

"These guidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives. Nor do they permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another. These guidelines do not prohibit any news outlet from appearing in Trending Topics."

He also explained how Trending Topics are chosen: they are first surfaced by an algorithm, then audited by review team members, who are there to make sure that what was picked up is actually something that people are talking about. 

"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," said Stocky.

He also made sure to mention that Facebook does not allow its reviews to be biased, and, in fact, the company has "designed our tools to make that technically not feasible." In addition, reviewers' actions are logged and reviewed, and if they are caught violating the guidelines they will be fired.

This explanation is not like to assuage anybody who was upset by this; especially not those looking for reasons to be offended and outraged. The story was perfect for the "them against us" narrative that so many of these outlets like to engage in. 

Even the Republican National Committee got in on the action, calling the report "chilling."

"It is beyond disturbing to learn that this power is being used to silence view points and stories that don't fit someone else's agenda," the RNC wrote. "Censorship in any form should give Americans who value their fundamental freedoms great pause."

It probably also doesn't help that Mark Zuckerberg has been in a simmering feud with Donald Trump since last year, with the two men taking veiled shots at each other. In fact, after Zuckerberg implicitly called Trump out at the F8 developer conference in April, employees at the company asked him if they should actually try and stop Trump from becoming President. 

One way I supposed Facebook could have done that would be to prevent stories about him from appearing on the Trending Topics bar, but now we know that would never happen. 

(Image source: theverge.com)

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