Facebook’s “Trending news" section was launched in 2014, and since then the feature became one of the go-to places for Facebook users who want to stay up to date with current developments around the world. With that in mind, controversy sparked yesterday after a report from Gizmodo citing an unnamed Facebook employee suggested that the company hired “a small group of young journalists” to curate the trending section. Even more worrying was the idea that Facebook’s so-called “news curators” have a bias towards certain topics, and have been instructed to “help” certain stories reach the trending section while preventing others – specifically stories regarding the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) - from doing so. After the story was picked up by numerous media outlets expressing their concerns, Facebook released an official statement on the matter, denying all the allegations.
According to Facebook’s official description for its trending feature, the trending news section “shows you topics that have recently become popular on Facebook. The topics you see are based on a number of factors including engagement, timeliness, Pages you’ve liked and your location”. In other words, there is an algorithm behind the trending section, designed to keep a proverbial close eye on trending stories and present them to the right audience. However, earlier this week a report emerged from Gizmodo, suggesting that Facebook has an active team of “news curators” who have a bigger (personal) say in what topics should be trending. The unnamed journalist claimed that he was one of the very few politically conservative news curators on the team, adding that stories regarding the Conservative Political Action Conference have been actively pushed outside the trending section by some of Facebook’s news curators. However, the initial rumors were not clear on whether Facebook instructs its team to be biased, or if some news curators abuse their position and manage the trending section to their liking without Facebook’s consent.
Following these allegations, Facebook released a statement denying the rumors. “We take allegations of bias very seriously” said the company’s spokesperson, adding that “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”. No other details have been given by Facebook, but it’s interesting to note that, ironically enough, Gizmodo’s original story on the matter did make an appearance on Facebook’s Trending section.