A 'Like' sign stands at the entrance to Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, California
A 'Like' sign stands at the entrance to Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, California

Facebook denies claims it suppressed conservative and controversial news on its ‘Trending Topics’ sidebar

An ex-employee said that the human editors on the site were encourages to censor stories that would be of interest to conservatives, and promote worthy stories that weren't getting enough attention

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 10 May 2016 10:52

Facebook has denied that it told its editors to hide conservative stories from its users.

The company had been accused of encouraging the humans that run its “Trending Topics” sidebar to suppress conservative stories and those from right-of-centre outlets. But the company has “found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true”, according to a post from its head of search Tom Stocky.

The controversy erupted following a post from Gizmodo that claimed people who worked on the Trending Topics team were told not to host stories from conservative outlets like Breitbart. Instead, those editors were encouraged to wait until it appeared on more traditional news outlets and link out to those stories instead.

The same report alleged that Facebook would give support for important news whether or not it was actually being talked about on the site. When Facebook “got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter”, for instance, the site “boosted it in the ordering”, an anonymous source told Gizmodo.

Many argued that the apparent manipulation was worrying because Facebook has presented the Trending Topics panel as if it was neutral, and relies on conversations on Facebook to decide what appears there. The report even found its way onto the Trending Topics bar itself.

Mr Stocky said that was not true and that it wouldn’t be “technically feasible” for editors to do what had been claimed in the piece.

“Trending Topics is designed to showcase the current conversation happening on Facebook,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “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.”

It said also that does not “insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so”. While it’s possible for reviewers to stick certain topics together – such as #StarWars and #‎maythefourthbewithyou – a topic must already be trending for it to be added to the panel, Mr Stocky claimed.

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