According to Facebook, their trending news list is generated by an algorithm which automatically elevates stories that Facebook users are reading about. Such a list of trending stories does exist at Facebook but it is not the one seen by users. According to a story published Monday by Gizmodo, the public list is hand-selected by a small cadre of news “curators,” many of whom suppress conservative stories that are legitimately trending on the site:
“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.”
The former curator was so troubled by the omissions that they kept a running log of them at the time; this individual provided the notes to Gizmodo. 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. “I believe it had a chilling effect on conservative news,” the former curator said.
Steven Crowder, who was singled out here, has published a response of sorts on his website which promises much more to come on this story:
There’s actually a whole lot more going on behind the scenes than I can tell you right now. Yes, there’ve been myriad things going on with Facebook for a very, very long time now. As I’ve covered in detail here “Facebook Is Censoring Louder With Crowder and I Can Prove It.”
Again, I’m not talking about a “boo-hoo, my blog got censored!” post. What I am talking about, will be a game-changer. Nobody will look at Facebook or social media platforms the same.
Getting back to Gizmodo, in addition to skipping over conservative news stories, Facebook also intentionally avoided adding links to conservative news sites:
Another former curator agreed that the operation had an aversion to right-wing news sources. “It was absolutely bias. We were doing it subjectively. It just depends on who the curator is and what time of day it is,” said the former curator. “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.”
Stories covered by conservative outlets (like Breitbart, Washington Examiner, and Newsmax) that were trending enough to be picked up by Facebook’s algorithm were excluded unless mainstream sites like the New York Times, the BBC, and CNN covered the same stories.
Outsourcing Facebook’s news judgment does not improve the situation with regard to bias. Let’s face it, editors at the BBC and the New York Times aren’t inclined to pick up news stories from Breitbart News (full disclosure: my former employer) or Red State. If the right’s media has to get past the media’s left-leaning gate-keepers to gain access to Facebook’s millions of readers it is at an obvious disadvantage. Gizmodo reports it is unclear whether the same sort of effort was made to find neutral sources for trending stories originating at progressive news sites.
The former curators Gizmodo talked to say the bias they observed at Facebook was not an official company policy. As with most media bias, it happened organically as the result of hiring “a small group of young journalists, primarily educated at Ivy League or private East Coast universities.” Needless to say, if you hire a bunch of young progressives to curate the news, the news is going to have a certain slant.
There are really only two ways around this problem (assuming Facebook even sees it as a problem). The first solution would be to intentionally hire curators with some ideological diversity. That means if there are 50 staff members curating Facebook’s trending news, more than 2-3 of them should be conservatives. The other alternative would be to simply let the algorithm work and stop curating at all. That is what Facebook has been telling people, or at least letting them believe, they are getting. Why not give it to them?