Facebook doesn’t suppress conservative news, claims Facebook

24 May 2016

A bizarre month for Facebook, which started with accusations that its Trending section was manipulated to suppress conservative articles, has now seen an internal investigation find that everything’s grand.

A few weeks ago, a report by Gizmodo, citing anonymous sources, sparked bemusement among some, and anger among others, with accusations that curators actively suppressed conservative US news from Facebook’s Trending section.

The claims were all anonymous but obviously struck a chord at Facebook, which is now one of the primary news sources for consumers in the US. So much so that an internal investigation into how it curates its trending news was undertaken.

Now Facebook’s Colin Stretch has revealed that the investigation threw up “no evidence of systematic political bias”, with liberal and conservative news appearing at an equal rate.

However, he admitted that the company could not rule out “isolated improper actions or unintentional bias in the implementation of our guidelines or policies”.

The company is now giving its curators a selection of new tools, and removing others, to bolster against any claims like this in the future.

Yesterday (23 May), Facebook sent a letter to John Thune, the chairman of the US Senate commerce committee, to explain its position. It detailed that topics relating to Republican political figures Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mitt Romney and Scott Walker were “to the contrary” of claims, in fact, accepted “on dozens of occasions”.

Facebook frequently accepts

“In fact, the two most frequently accepted topics since early 2015 are presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and #GOPDebate,” the letter read.

For those unaware, Facebook’s Trending topics appear in the upper-right corner of the site, separate to the main News Feed. Both computational algorithms and staff work together to curate these lists.

Last week, it was reported that a collection of ‘leading conservatives’ met with Mark Zuckerberg to discuss the problem, which looks like a bit of an overreaction to something everybody should probably be aware of: know where you get your news, and why that location provided it.

“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,” said Facebook’s vice-president of Search, Tom Stocky, in the allegations’ early days.

“At the same time, our reviewers’ actions are logged and reviewed, and violating our guidelines is a fireable offence.”

Facebook image via Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic