A mere couple of days after a U.S. Senate Committee aimed a letter at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg alleging that Facebook wilfully blocked news stories on conservative viewpoints from appearing in its 'Trending Topics' section, The Guardian has been handed a series of leaked documents which now prove that the allegations weren't entirely unfounded. The leaked documents reveal that Facebook relies on an internal editorial team to curate its trending news section and to decide what all topics from around the globe get to feature in it.
Even though Facebook wasn't wrong to say that it relied on an algorithm to determine which news stories were featured in its trending module, the company decided to inject a human factor back in 2014 to ensure that its users did not feel that certain topics were not covered in the section. The human factor is now a dedicated team which apparently works in round-the-clock shifts to inject stories into the trending topics section and to remove stories which they feel 'don't represent a real-world event.' A major factor which proves how much the editorial team rules over the algorithm is the fact that the editorial team has been instructed to include any news story in the trending news section which appears among the top stories in at least five of ten news websites, namely BBC News, CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo News and more. The team can also add stories which have been posted by general users and which have generated a lot of interest among other readers. The leaked documents have also revealed that Facebook's editors can use their discretion to determine which newsmakers' pages can be cited on the trending module and where to place such stories.
Earlier this week, in response to a news story on Gizmodo which alleged that Facebook hired a group of journalists to curate the trending news section, Facebook said that its trending topics section reflects topics based on factors like engagement, timeliness, Pages liked and locations. Around the same time, Tom Stocky, Facebook’s vice-president of search, claimed that "We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so." However, he hinted at the presence of an editorial team to maintain the quality of the trending topics section. "Facebook does not allow or advise our reviewers to systematically discriminate against sources of any political origin, period. What these guidelines show is that we’ve approached this responsibly and with the goal of creating a high-quality product – in the hopes of delivering a meaningful experience for the people who use our service," he added. In a statement given to The Verge on Wednesday, a Facebook spokesperson said that the company has seen "allegations that people did not honor the intent of guidelines on trending topics' and that the company is 'continuing to investigate whether any violations took place."