Facebook is taking allegations that employees routinely suppressed trending news stories of interest to conservative readers "very seriously," a spokesperson for the social media giant said Monday.
Earlier in the day, the website Gizmodo published a report citing several former Facebook "news curators" who said they were instructed to "inject" certain stories into the influential "trending" section — even if they weren't actually trending — and to suppress others, usually catering to a liberal bias.
Their explicit purpose at Facebook was to write headlines and descriptions for news stories identified as trending by an algorithm, but the employees — described as young Ivy League educated journalists — said their jobs were much more curatorial.
The former curators, who have remained anonymous, said they were often told by their managers to "artificially manipulate" the trending module to cause hard news topics to trend when they weren't, giving such examples as "#BlackLIvesMatter" or the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
The curators suggested this was to compete with Twitter, which had long been the preferred social media site for delivering timely breaking news to wide audiences.
They also alleged certain conservative-leaning stories were "blacklisted" from the trending module. And that they were instructed to block news about Facebook itself in the trending section.
A spokesperson for Facebook told BuzzFeed News that they are taking the "allegations of bias" seriously, but said rigorous guidelines "do not permit the suppression of political perspectives."
Here is Facebook's full statement:
We take allegations of bias very seriously. Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum. Trending Topics shows you the popular topics and hashtags that are being talked about on Facebook. There are 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.
My team is responsible for Trending Topics, and I want to address today's reports alleging that Facebook contractors manipulated Trending Topics to suppress stories of interest to conservatives. We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true.Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum. There are 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.Trending Topics is designed to showcase the current conversation happening on Facebook. Popular topics are first surfaced by an algorithm, then audited by review team members to confirm that the topics are in fact trending news in the real world and not, for example, similar-sounding topics or misnomers.We are proud that, in 2015, the US election was the most talked-about subject on Facebook, and we want to encourage that robust political discussion from all sides. 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.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.Our review guidelines for Trending Topics are under constant review, and we will continue to look for improvements. We will also keep looking into any questions about Trending Topics to ensure that people are matched with the stories that are predicted to be the most interesting to them, and to be sure that our methods are as neutral and effective as possible.