If you’ve ever used Facebook, you’ve noticed the list of trending topics on the vertical navbar along the right side of the page. You may have even clicked one or two of them to see what’s happening or why the topic is trending. What you probably didn’t know is that Facebook apparently blacklists certain topics from showing up, or certain news outlets from having their coverage seen by Facebook’s audience.
Gizmodo, a tech blog, talked to the people behind Facebook’s news aggregation service–“news curators” in Facebookspeak–and it turns out that Facebook’s news coverage isn’t based on fancy, unbiased algorithms at all. Nope. Facebook’s news service is instead run by people who want to make sure none of that icky right-wing coverage finds its way in front of people’s eyeballs:
They were also told to select articles from a list of preferred media outlets that included sites like the New York Times, Time, Variety, and other traditional outlets. They would regularly avoid sites like World Star Hip Hop, The Blaze, and Breitbart, but were never explicitly told to suppress those outlets. They were also discouraged from mentioning Twitter by name in headlines and summaries, and instead asked to refer to social media in a broader context.
News curators also have the power to “deactivate” (or blacklist) a trending topic—a power that those we spoke to exercised on a daily basis. A topic was often blacklisted if it didn’t have at least three traditional news sources covering it, but otherwise the protocol was murky—meaning a curator could ostensibly blacklist a topic without a particularly good reason for doing so.
You read that correctly: Facebook’s news curators regularly went out of their way to make sure coverage from conservative sites like The Blaze rarely found its way into Facebook’s coverage of trending news topics.
Facebook’s trending topic blacklist protocol is especially egregious, because it gives its news curators multiple different ways of preventing conservative news or conservative news outlets from ever seeing the light of day. According to former news curators for the tech giant who talked to Gizmodo, the company first determines who is and isn’t a “preferred” news site. Based on that determination, the curators then have the power to blacklist any trending topic that isn’t sufficiently covered by the “preferred” sites.
Want to block coverage of the blockbuster Planned Parenthood videos that showed how the abortion provider went out of its way to harvest and traffic organs ripped from healthy, unborn babies, but without explicitly blocking that particular topic? Easy: just pre-emptively exclude organizations that covered the story from your list of preferred news providers. Or, if that’s too much work, just manually manipulate the trending topic so it tells the exact opposite story from the one that is actually trending. And then, if anybody gets wise to the racket, just tell them the choice was totally up to you and not dictated from above, as if that somehow makes deliberate blacklisting or censorship perfectly acceptable.
We don’t have to just imagine that scenario unfolding, though. Why? Because it actually happened.
Here’s what one pro-life activist noticed about Facebook’s Planned Parenthood’s baby organ harvesting coverage last August:
I wasn’t particularly surprised to see this afternoon that “Planned Parenthood” was listed as the #1 top-trending topic on Facebook’s trending bar.
After all, my Facebook newsfeed was packed to the seams with posts about the latest video, released this morning, featuring the gruesome testimony from a former StemExpress employee about how they harvested the brains of a baby while its heart was still beating at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
But then I looked closer at Facebook’s “trending” Planned Parenthood topic. And then I did a double take. This is – laughable as it might seem – what the descriptor said: “U.S. State inquiries into organization show no criminal evidence, report says.”
So I clicked on the “trending” topic to see what it was all about.
There I found, featured at the top, two posts by Planned Parenthood’s official Facebook page. The first post, with a puny 2.6 thousand likes, linked to a Buzzfeed article that did include mention of how some states that had investigated Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation program didn’t find anything amiss – because Planned Parenthood doesn’t have a fetal tissue donation program in those states. In other words, a non-story. The second post, with just over 3,000 likes, linked to a CapitalNewYork article about how Florida was going to let three clinics caught performing illegal 2nd trimester abortions to continue performing abortions.
After that there were a large number of posts by my Facebook friends about today’s video, and then a bunch of posts by random news websites, mostly about the video, although there was one by The Guardian also claiming that state investigations haven’t turned up any evidence of wrong-doing – again, because in those states tissue donation is either illegal, or Planned Parenthood just doesn’t participate in tissue donation there. That Guardian article has, as of this writing, just 4,600 likes and shares.
By contrast, LifeSite’s one story about today’s eye-opening video has over 50,000 likes and shares on Facebook, and growing by the second. Breitbart’s article about the video (linked to by the Drudge Report) has over 20,000 likes and shares. LiveActionNews’s story has 10,000. Young Conservatives has more than 18,000.
“I can’t help but ask,” the author of that post wrote. “Is this a transparent case of Facebook misusing its authority to ‘create,’ or, at the very least, hijack, a trending topic, to serve its own purposes?”
Now we know the answer, especially in light of the confession by Facebook’s own news curators that they absolutely had the power and authority to arbitrarily blacklist certain news topics. And that particular activist isn’t the only one who noticed what was happening. Last July, Facebook went so far as to block individual posts that mentioned Planned Parenthood’s baby organ harvesting and trafficking schemes:
Earlier today, shocking video was released that shows Planned Parenthood’s medical director bragging about the harvest and sale of aborted baby organs and body parts. The news took social media by storm, as people began furiously tweeting about and sharing the horrifying story online.
It appears, however, that social media giant Facebook is not a fan of the viral spread of the story. According to Russell Moore, a top official with the Southern Baptist Convention, Facebook is preventing his organization from sharing the story via Facebook.
Moore was not the only individual prevented from sharing news of Planned Parenthood’s atrocities:
Facebook’s censorship of Moore’s post is especially curious, since the only “offensive” aspect of Moore’s post is the very procedure he’s describing: the deliberate murder of a healthy unborn baby in order to harvest its body parts and sell them for profit. There is no profanity. There is no graphic imagery. Yet for some reason Facebook decided that the information was not fit to be posted or shared.
Facebook’s deliberate blacklisting of conservative content and conservative outlets, as revealed by its own news curators in charge of the process, shouldn’t come as any surprise. The only thing that is surprising is why conservatives would trust organizations like Facebook to provide honest and unbiased accounts of what’s happening in the world.