If you’ve ever used Facebook, you’ve noticed the list of trending topics on the vertical bar 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 audiences.
CONSERVATIVES WHO HAVE LONG SUSPECTED THAT SOCIAL MEDIA BEHEMOTH FACEBOOK LEANS TO THE LIBERAL SIDE OF THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM NOW HAVE SOME MORE EVIDENCE TO BACK UP THEIR SUSPICIONS.
THE TECH BLOG GIZMODO REVEALED THAT FACEBOOK BLACKLISTS :
1. CERTAIN TOPICS FROM APPEARING IN ITS TRENDING TOPICS, AND
2. CERTAIN CONSERVATIVE NEWS SITES FROM SHOWING UP IN ITS USER NEWS FEEDS.
Gizmodo talked to the people behind Facebook’s news aggregation service – “news curators” in Facebook speak – 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 rightwing coverage finds its way in front of people’s eyeballs.
The trending news section is run by people in their 20s and early 30s, most of whom graduated from Ivy League and private East Coast schools like Columbia University and NYU. They’ve previously worked at outlets like The New York Daily News, Bloomberg, MSNBC and The Guardian. Some former curators have left Facebook for jobs at organizations including The New Yorker, Mashable and Sky Sports.
RATHER THAN BEING THE OPEN FORUM FOR DISCUSSION THAT FACEBOOK CLAIMS TO BE, IT IS INSTEAD CENSORING THE TOPICS AND NEWS SITES THAT AREN’T FAVORED BY THE CURATORS WHO MOSTLY ATTENDED LIBERAL COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES, AND WHO WORKED FOR LIBERAL NEWS ORGANIZATIONS BEFORE COMING TO WORK FOR FACEBOOK.
According to former team members interviewed by Gizmodo, this small group has the power to choose what stories make it onto the trending bar and, more importantly, what news sites each topic links to. “We choose what’s trending,” said one. “There was no real standard for measuring what qualified as news and what didn’t. It was up to the news curator to decide.”
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 that coverage from conservative sites 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.
SOCIAL MEDIA SITES LIKE FACEBOOK HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO PROTECT ITS USERS FROM OBJECTIONABLE CONTENT, BUT IF IT TRULY WANTS TO BE THE NEWS SOURCE FOR MILLIONS OF PEOPLE, THEN IT SHOULD MAKE SURE ITS CURATING TEAM IS FAIR AND BALANCED AND THAT ALL POINTS OF VIEW HAVE AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY TO BE SEEN ON ITS SITE.
“Conservative News Sites And Topics Blacklisted By Facebook” by Don Irvine, www.accuracyinmedia.com : May 4, 2016
“Surprise! Facebook Blacklists Trending Topics And Conservative News Outlets” by The Federalist Staff, The Federalist : May 3, 2016