Guest Editorial: Censorship on Facebook?
The news media’s reputation has taken a substantial hit in recent years, and it appears that social media, which has increasingly been seen as a viable alternative news source, is not immune to disappointing readers’ sense of fairness with its own biases. Social media behemoth Facebook is now coming under fire, courtesy of a report from tech blog Gizmodo, that offers evidence the company’s trending news topics are manipulated for political reasons.
While Facebook’s news feed is based on an algorithm designed to detect and highlight popular issues being discussed, less known was the amount of the human element that goes into selecting top stories. “Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential ‘Trending’ news section,” Gizmodo reported, based on interviews with several former “news curators” responsible for operating the site’s news module, located in the upper right portion of users’ Facebook pages.
“Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted,” one former curator, identified as a conservative, revealed. “I believe it had a chilling effect on conservative news.”
The topics suppressed included former Republican presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, talk-show host Glenn Beck and the IRS scandal involving the targeting of conservative groups.
Even when stories from conservative sites like Breitbart, Red State or Newsmax were legitimately trending, the curators were instructed to link to “a more neutral outlet” carrying the same story, driving viewer traffic – and advertising revenue – to those other sites instead. Moreover, managers directed curators to “insert” into the news feed stories they considered important, such as coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement or the conflict in Syria, even if they were not deemed “trending” by the algorithm.
Facebook is a private company and can handle and disseminate its news any way it likes, just like any newspaper or cable news channel. What is disappointing is that Facebook has long professed its political neutrality, and the manipulation of computer-driven trending news flies in the face of that promise to its billions of users. Besides providing still more evidence of left-leaning news bias, this practice is disingenuous and a disservice to Facebook’s users. Thanks to the Gizmodo report, at least Facebook users are now aware of its bias and can react as they see fit.