Facebook changes Trending Topics policies following claims of bias towards left
24th May 2016
Facebook says it has changed some of the procedures behind its Trending Topics section, after a news report alleging it suppressed conservative news prompted a US Congressional demand for more transparency.
- Facebook says internal probe showed no evidence of political bias
- But social media giant introducing several changes to Trending Topics to help avoid human bias
- Prominent conservative says “there will never be balance or fairness on Facebook”
The social media giant said an internal probe showed no evidence of political bias in the selection of news stories for Trending Topics, a feature that is separate from the main “news feed” where most Facebook users get their news.
But the company said in a blogpost that it was introducing several changes, including elimination of a top-10 list of approved websites, more training and clearer guidelines to help human editors avoid ideological or political bias, and more robust review procedures.
Earlier this month, a former Facebook contractor had accused the company’s editors of deliberately suppressing conservative news. The allegations were reported by technology news website Gizmodo, which did not identify the ex-contractor.
The report led Republican senator John Thune to write a letter demanding that the company explain how it selects news articles for its Trending Topics list. He gave a deadline of May 24.
“Any attempt by a neutral and inclusive social media platform to censor or manipulate political discussion is an abuse of trust and inconsistent with the values of an open internet,” he said.
Two days after Thune’s letter, Facebook published a lengthy blogpost detailing how Trending Topics works even though it rarely discloses such practices.
Any wholly-open platform like that will always tend towards left-leaning ideas and themes getting more attention.Glenn Beck
Previously, it had never discussed the inner workings of the feature, which displays topics and news articles in the top right-hand corner of the desktop homepage for its more than 1.6 billion users.
Facebook said its investigation showed that conservative and liberal topics were approved as trending topics at nearly identical rates.
It said it was unable to substantiate any allegations of politically motivated suppression of particular subjects or sources.
However, it did not rule out human error in selecting topics.
“Our investigation could not fully exclude the possibility of isolated improper actions or unintentional bias in the implementation of our guidelines or policies,” Facebook’s general counsel Colin Stretch said.
‘This afternoon I hosted more than a dozen leading conservatives to talk about how we can make sure Facebook continues to be a platform for all ideas across the political spectrum.
Silicon Valley has a reputation for being liberal. But the Facebook community includes more than 1.6 billion people of every background and ideology — from liberal to conservative and everything in between.
We’ve built Facebook to be a platform for all ideas. Our community’s success depends on eve…
‘Conservatives less likely to be posting’
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg met last week with more than a dozen conservative politicians and media personalities to discuss issues of trust in the social network.
Glenn Beck, an American television host and conservative political commentator who attended the meeting, afterwards wrote a blog post defending Facebook’s practices.
“In my opinion, there is no evidence of a top-down initiative to silence conservative voices,” he wrote.
But after copping criticism for “selling out” to the social network and to the left, he wrote another post entitled “why there will never be balance or fairness on Facebook”.
In it, he said Facebook tended to lean to the left because left-leaning users tended to be more vocal.
“Conservatives are less likely to be posting, we are less likely to be shrieking to be listened to,” he wrote.
“Any wholly-open platform like that will always tend towards left-leaning ideas and themes getting more attention.
“Why? Because this is the psychology of the left. People on the left need to be heard, need to be validated. In order to feel whole, they have to be.”
He said it was something that could not be helped, regardless of what Facebook’s technology team did.