This post was written by Connor Balough
Facebook is a great way to communicate with friends, but the head of “trending news” just got caught Red Handed monkeying with what goes in Facebook news.
According to Gizmodo, the source kept a list of stories that were “deep sixed,” or prevented from trending on Facebook. They include a laundry list of topics of interest to conservatives.
Among the deep-sixed or suppressed topics on the list: former IRS official Lois Lerner, who was accused by Republicans of inappropriately scrutinizing conservative groups; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; popular conservative news aggregator the Drudge Report; Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL who was murdered in 2013; and former Fox News contributor Steven Crowder.
Gizmodo explains that, far from reflecting the interests of the social network’s users, the site’s “trending” list instead reflects the biases of its news team.
In other words, Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing—but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.”
In other words, Facebook’s role in the dissemination of news is beginning to resemble that of the Old Media gatekeepers the company initially claimed to be “disrupting.” Like MSNBC or CNN, Facebook is going to feed its users information from the top down, mediated by its employees’ own political prejudices — just as I predicted it would last month.
In addition to suppressing stories, Gizmodo’s sources also confirmed that they were also directed to “inject” certain stories into the trending list even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion. Unsurprisingly, these included stories about Black Lives Matter, a movement that Mark Zuckerberg has personally defended from internal critics at the company.