The social media rumor mill seems to continually cycle the idea that Facebook intentionally blocks certain content at the behest of politically correct internal leadership. Of course it has also been known to suggest that Mark Zuckerburg is a 33rd degree Mason, member of the Illuminati, or perhaps the Antichrist himself.
But seriously, we all have that Facebook friend who is regularly claiming that Facebook violated their freedom of speech by removing a politically incorrect (or perhaps bigoted blurb of ignorance) post. At least I think we all have that Facebook friend, but then again, maybe I need to apply more discretion before clicking the confirm button.
Despite my lack of faith in “that friend”, I’ve always held suspicion toward Facebook’s sociopolitical bias affecting what makes its way to my feed, but there’s never been a way to actually substantiate the claim. Frankly, there still isn’t, but former employees anonymously admitting to Gizmodo that it happened is the best I can find so far.
The angle is that Facebook allegedly suppressed news stories that were conservative in nature, and the precise method they chose to do so was by keeping them off of the trending news section they added towards the top-right of every user’s news feed in 2014. With over a billion user accounts, this trending news feed is one of the most coveted pieces of online real estate in existence.
As Gizmodo reports,
Several former Facebook “news curators,” as they were known internally, also told Gizmodo that they were instructed to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all. The former curators, all of whom worked as contractors, also said they were directed not to include news about Facebook itself in the trending module.
The “new curators” were a select group of young journalists, most of whom had recently graduated from one ivy league school or another. Having access to a ranked list of trending topics which the site’s algorithm generated, the curator’s job was to write headlines and summaries, as well as find links to news sites, that could all be included as a feature in the trending section. Regarding the position, one curator commented,
“Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending. 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.”
That curator kept a running log of the omissions and provided the notes to Gizmodo, who reports that among the topics were former IRS official Lois Lerner, who was accused by Republicans of inappropriately scrutinizing conservative groups; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; popular conservative news aggregator the Drudge Report; Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL who was murdered in 2013; and former Fox News contributor Steven Crowder.
In order to maintain an appearance that they (Facebook) cared about certain topics, one curator said,
“People stopped caring about Syria. [And] if it wasn’t trending on Facebook, it would make Facebook look bad.”
The same curator claimed that #BlackLivesMatter, a hashtag movement that originated on Facebook, was injected into the trending section
“Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter,” the individual said. “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’.”
Another former curator provided the perspective on what would happen if news about Facebook itself was trending,
“Usually we had the authority to trend anything on our own [but] if it was something involving Facebook, the copy editor would call their manager, and that manager might even call their manager before approving a topic involving Facebook.”
In that sense they sound like Congress passing laws that don’t apply to them. You can read the full feature here. The point in my coverage of this is not to defend one political viewpoint or the other. The point is that no matter who you support, or what views you hold, you should vehemently be against the largest social network in existence suppressing anything that their algorithm should be sending your way.
Do you believe these former employees? If so, what, if anything, can we do about it?