Where Facebook and journalism intersect [Updated]

The social media outfit is in hot water after sources revealed how it determines content for the site’s ‘trending section.” Here’s how reps responded.


It’s been a headline-laden few weeks for the middle of the journalism and Facebook Venn diagram.

A group of journalists that were reportedly hired to work on the tech company’s “trending news” section last year, are now calling their experience “degrading.”

This week, several news outlets say that those same journalists—who were hired to give Facebook news credibility—routinely suppressed stories about conservative leaders and issues.

Gizmodo first reported on both stories, and the details are troubling for anyone who believes journalists should practice impartiality.

Former Facebook news curators—that worked as contractors—told Gizmodo that conservative topics were suppressed on the site and conservative-leaning websites such as Breitbart, Drudge Report and Red State were pushed down in the rankings.

“Every once in a while a Red State or conservative news source would have a story,” one source said. “But we would have to go and find the same story from a more neutral outlet that wasn’t as biased.”

The non-biased outlets—those trusted publications that the curators were allowed to feature—included The New York Times, CNN and the BBC.

The former curators also accuse Facebook of injecting stories into the “trending section” that didn’t necessarily warrant that tag. One source cited the Black Lives Matter movement as a topic that was originally injected into the module. Curators were also reportedly told not to include stories about Facebook in the trending topics area. This point is particularly interesting as Gizmodo’s report about Facebook’s manipulations showed up as a trending topic.

A Facebook spokesperson offered the following statement to TechCrunch:

We take allegations of bias very seriously. Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum. Trending Topics shows you the popular topics and hashtags that are being talked about on Facebook. There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality. These guidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives. Nor do they permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another. These guidelines do not prohibit any news outlet from appearing in Trending Topics.

Conservatives have been vocal in their criticism. For much of the day on Monday, Drudge Report featured a photo of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg with the headline, “Not leaning in … leaning left!” RELATED: Get the scoop on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram developments at Facebook headquarters.

Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner called out Facebook for “censoring conservatives.”

How do you think Facebook should have responded, PR Daily readers? UPDATE: On Thursday, Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, responded to the allegations through a post on his Facebook page:

Zuckerberg reiterated that Facebook has “rigorous guidelines” to prevent bias when picking the topics seen in users’ trends:

To serve our diverse community, we are committed to building a platform for all ideas. Trending Topics is designed to surface the most newsworthy and popular conversations on Facebook. We have rigorous guidelines that do not permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or the suppression of political perspectives.

Zuckerberg also said that the company hasn’t found any evidence to support the allegations:

We have found no evidence that this report is true. If we find anything against our principles, you have my commitment that we will take additional steps to address it.

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