Facebook's anti-Conservative bias: Zuckerberg seeks to control fallout
14 May 2016
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has announced that he plans to invite ''leading conservatives and people from across the political spectrum'' to talk with him about accusations of political bias at the social media company.
Zuckerberg made the announcement on Thursday evening in a Facebook post that continued to deny the allegations of bias and the claim that the Facebook trending topics team suppresses conservative news.
''We have found no evidence that this report is true,'' he wrote. ''If we find anything against our principles, you have my commitment that we will take additional steps to address it.''
On Monday, Gizmodo created a storm when it reported that contracted workers at Facebook ''routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers'' and artificially ''inject'' stories into the trending topics section, citing anonymous former ''news curators''.
Zuckerberg's statement is a sign of how damaging the allegations are to a company that, despite serving as a news source for millions of people, maintains that it is a neutral tech company.
On Tuesday, Facebook's vice-president for search, Tom Stocky, addressed the controversy in a post of his own, denying allegations of bias and writing: ''We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so.''
But early on Thursday, The Guardian obtained Facebook's internal guidelines for the trending topics section that contradicted Stocky's statement. The documents include instructions for how curators can ''inject'' or ''blacklist'' topics in the trending topics.
''The editorial team CAN [sic] inject a newsworthy topic in the event that something is attracting a lot of attention, such as #BlackLivesMatter,'' the guidelines state.
Facebook's vice-president for global operations, Justin Osofsky, subsequently wrote his own blogpost about the editorial guidelines – which were released – and specified that many topics are rejected because they ''reflect what is considered 'noise'''.
Zuckerberg's statement – the third dispatch from a company executive in just four days – did not address the question of Facebook's editorial practices, but instead focused on the question of political bias against conservative viewpoints.
Conservative media has doubled down on those accusations of bias against Facebook in the wake of revelations by the Guardian on the company's news strategy.
''They market it as this organic collection of things that are trending,'' said Sean Davis, co-founder of popular conservative site the Federalist.
''They are walling off huge areas people are talking about. That's the real problem. We're generally for free association, for private enterprise. If their investors like it, we're free to criticize it and they're free to do what they want. The beef from conservatives has not been that there's bias, it's been that there's not admission of it.''
Facebook relies on a list of 10 top news sources, including the Guardian, for most of its decisions about whether a subject meets the criteria to join its trending news module. Below that is a list of other sources that can be used that totals 1,000. The Federalist is not on the list.