Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook’s guidelines did not “permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or the suppression of political perspectives”, in response to a Gizmodo report report that the company ‘suppressed conservative news’ in its Trending Topics panel on Facebook. (Noam Chomsky, anyone?)
In his post, Zuckerberg added that Facebook was “conducting a full investigation to ensure our teams upheld the integrity of this product.” He said that Facebook did not find any evidence of the allegations against it in the Gizmodo report, but if it did find anything, Facebook would “take additional steps to address it,” without stating what steps it would take.
Trending Topics’ editorial team follows editorial guidelines
Yesterday, The Guardian published leaked documents from Facebook, citing the Trending Topics guidelines. The guidelines don’t say anything about suppressing any kind of content, but indeed follow any typical newsroom’s approach which has in house styles and editorial guidelines. If there were an error, one could attribute it either to man (the editorial team) or the machine (the algorithm used to detect trending topics).
News sources liberal, some employees conservative
It would be pretty tough for Facebook to ascertain which single editor or group of editors influenced whether or not to suppress conservative content, but I imagine that’s the full investigation Zuckerberg is talking about. The Guardian states that Facebook’s critics would argue that Facebook’s news sources were liberal. It should be interesting to note that some of the former employees cited in the Gizmodo report identified themselves as people leaning towards conservative politics.
In the guidelines, Facebook states that the topics are detected by Facebook’s Trending algorithm, which show in the panel when the topic is mentioned “more than its normal level of buzz” and that newsworthy topics can be blacklisted (no reason provided).
The company also provided The Guardian with a 1,000 instances of where it did publish conservative news topics.
Trending Topics not the same for everyone, can be customised
The Gizmodo report states that Facebook claims Trending Topics to be a module showing users “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook and are based on a number of factors including engagement, timeliness, pages you’ve liked, location etc.”. This indicates that trending topics could be different for different users, despite having one editorial team and the ability to tweak what you see in the Trending section.
Recent developments at Facebook:
– Facebook revealed that content restrictions in India dipped just a little (184 content pieces) to 14,971 in the second half of 2015, compared to 15,155 content pieces in the first half of 2015. Facebook states that the majority of the 14,971 content pieces that it blocked pertained to anti-religious and hate speech ‘that could cause unrest and disharmony within India’.
– Last month, Facebook updated its News Feed to show its users stories they actually read, rather than stories they just like, click, comment on, or share, using Instant Article metrics to judge how much time users actually spent on an article after the content is fully loaded.