Where do you get your news? If you are like one of millions of Facebook users, the odds are good that you get a significant portion of your news straight from Facebook, and that is precisely why a recent article from Gizmodo may have troubling indications. After conducting a series of interviews with former Facebook employees, Gizmodo claims that some former curators for the social media giant say that censoring and suppressing conservative news was common. Among the topics blacklisted are conservative issues and political figures, so some observers have started wondering if Facebook have also shuttered pro-gun or hunting news as well. In the past, Facebook made several policy changes that gun rights advocates have disagreed with, including banning the trade and commerce of firearms on its pages. Now some are wondering if Facebook is also manipulating the news.
According to the Gizmodo article, anonymous Facebook employees say they can control what is “injected” into the trending module. This ensures that certain news will be widely seen, while other items will not.
“Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,” one former curator told Gizmodo. “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.”
Instead, other news that did not organically start trending were injected into the feed. On one occasion, former staffers said they were pressured to inject news regarding the Black Lives Matter movement into the trending module. Other topics, such as the crisis in Syria, received similar treatment.
After the Gizmodo article was published on Monday, Facebook quickly made a statement regarding its policy on what trends, and what doesn’t.
“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,” read an emailed statement. “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.”
Regardless, the news is being taken seriously with many, not the least of which is the Republican National Committee.
“With 167 million US Facebook users reading stories highlighted in the trending section, Facebook has the power to greatly influence the presidential election,” read a statement on GOP.com. “It is beyond disturbing to learn that this power is being used to silence view points and stories that don’t fit someone else’s agenda. Censorship in any form should give Americans who value their fundamental freedoms great pause.”
So far, no comprehensive list of blacklisted topics have been released, if such a list existed at all. Some suspect that if such bias does occur, it may be due to personal beliefs rather than a directive from Facebook itself. Those who support Facebook say the Gizmodo article is anecdotal and speculative at best, but it is impossible to deny that it has started a conversation on the power of social media companies, especially when it comes to the dissemination of news.
What do you think? Can social media be trusted?