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The Outer Limits of Facebook:
Facebook’s influential news feed feature has suppressed news about conservatives, including Gov. Scott Walker (R), according to a Monday morning story published by Gizmodo, a tech news website. Gizmodo technology editor Michael Nunez spoke with several Facebook “news curators” who decided to blow the whistle on the social media giant’s censoring practices.
According to the story, Facebook employees routinely monitor news being shared or discussed across the social media platform and write punchy snippets about trending stories. The summaries then appear on the sidebar of user’s newsfeed page.
“Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation,” Nunez reports. The ranking of stories, and their very appearance in trending news, is not the result of algorithms that respond to organic user activity, something that was previously thought to be the source of the news rankings.
Among conservatives who were targeted by the bias, the whistleblowers allege, is Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ted Cruz. The social media platform’s news editors ignored trending stories about the Wisconsin governor, along with stories about former Massachusetts governor and two-time Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
“Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,” a source said.
“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.”
Another source said: “Every once in awhile a Red State or conservative news source would have a story. But we would have to go and find the same story from a more neutral outlet that wasn’t as biased.”
The names of the sources were not mentioned in the story because they fear retribution from the social media company. The employees quoted worked at Facebook as late as December of 2015
We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News
Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential “trending” news section, according to a former journalist who worked on the project. This individual says that workers prevented stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the highly-influential section, even though they were organically trending among the site’s users.
Several former Facebook “news curators,” as they were known internally, also told Gizmodo that they were instructed to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all. The former curators, all of whom worked as contractors, also said they were directed not to include news about Facebook itself in the trending module.
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."
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