Former Facebook employees are speaking out about how liberal biases pervading the company led them to suppress conservative news and push their own agenda via the social network’s “trending topics” sidebar.
Last week, Gizmodo published a story revealing the way Facebook employees selected which stories were included and which were ignored in their trending topics sidebar.
The topics aren’t selected by an auto-generated algorithm, but by young, Ivy League-educated journalists called “news curators.” These individuals were instructed to adhere to the company’s biased guidelines and enabled to let their own agendas run amok. These individuals revealed they were instructed to blackball conservative publications like The Blaze and Brietbart.
Now it turns out that the plot to suppress conservative news actually runs much deeper than just ignoring conservative sites. Gizmodo reports that news curators were instructed to ignore certain news topics or events altogether, and told to place items on the list that Facebook users weren’t actually talking about enough to make the topics trend.
Whenever a conservative outlet would break a story, the news curators would wait until another “more neutral” news outlet had picked it up before placing it on the list of trending topics. News events were excluded from the list unless more traditional news outlets, such as CNN or BBC, picked it up first.
Not only did the company suppress news from conservative sources, but it also suppressed news about topics like Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL who was killed in 2013, Wisconsin’s John Doe probe into Scott Walker, and IRS official Lois Lerner’s targeting of conservative groups.
The team was also instructed to place items on the trending list that were not actually being talked about or shared, using the company’s “injection tool.” The tool was meant to help push out breaking news stories that were not trending organically or being shared among Facebook users, but sometimes it was used to push whatever the larger news outlets were reporting, even if it wasn’t actually trending or breaking news.
‘We were told that if we saw something, a news story that was on the front page of these ten sites, like CNN, the New York Times, and BBC, then we could inject the topic,’ said one former curator. ‘If it looked like it had enough news sites covering the story, we could inject it—even if it wasn’t naturally trending.’
That same curator said the Black Lives Matter movement was also injected into Facebook’s trending news module. ‘Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter,’ the individual said. ‘They realized it was a problem, and they boosted it in the ordering. They gave it preference over other topics. When we injected it, everyone started saying, “Yeah, now I’m seeing it as number one”.’ This particular injection is especially noteworthy because the #BlackLivesMatter movement originated on Facebook, and the ensuing media coverage of the movement often noted its powerful social media presence.
(In February, CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed his support for the movement in an internal memo chastising Facebook employees for defacing Black Lives Matter slogans on the company’s internal ‘signature wall.’)
The standards were arbitrary and left up to the individuals who were working at the time.
‘Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,’ said the former curator. This individual asked to remain anonymous, citing fear of retribution from the company. The former curator is politically conservative, one of a very small handful of curators with such views on the trending team. ‘I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz.’
A quick glance at Facebook’s trending topics this morning seems to validate that these same selection biases are still active. News surrounding North Carolina’s bathroom law, which bars individuals from using public restrooms belonging to the opposite sex they were born with, was listed in the political section of the trending topics sidebar this morning.
The top sources of information about the state’s bathroom law were not from neutral news sites, but from the ACLU and the Human Rights Campaign — two organizations that have actively opposed the law.
There were no posts in the newsfeed from conservative or religious groups that support the law, which seems to corroborate statements from former employees that Facebook routinely drowns out conservative perspectives on a given topic and artificially promotes liberal interests.