And they “inject” certain stories into the trending section.
Just yesterday, Gizmodo broke a controversial story about the way that Facebook manages its trending news section — a former curator came forward claiming that Facebook censors certain conservative news from making it on the trending list, even if those stories are organically trending among the site’s users.
According to a former Facebook journalist who worked on the social media giant’s trending news section, workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers, including stories about Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and the right-wing CPAC gathering.
The former worker requested to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution from Facebook, but he told Gizmodo, “Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending.”
“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,” he continued. “I believe it had a chilling effect on conservative news.”
Last week, Gizmodo revealed details about Facebook’s diversity-lacking trending news team — it consists of young journalists who are primarily educated at Ivy League colleges or private East Coast universities. This small group of people writes headlines and summaries of each news topic and includes links to sources for the stories.
The group has access to a ranked list of trending topics put together by Facebook’s algorithm, which prioritizes content as it should be shown to Facebook users in the trending section. However, this isn’t always the case, as several Facebook curators have now admitted.
Gizmodo reports that a number of former curators spoke to them about using an “injection tool” to push certain news stories into the trending section that weren’t being shared or discussed enough to organically make it into the section on their own.
At any given moment, millions of users are reading Facebook’s content — 167 million in the US alone. Facebook is one of the most powerful outlets for delivering the news, and the curators say that after a topic was “injected,” it would sometimes become the number one trending news topic on Facebook.
“We were told that if we saw something, a news story that was on the front page of these ten sites, like CNN, the New York Times, and BBC, then we could inject the topic,” said another former curator who spoke with Gizmodo. “If it looked like it had enough news sites covering the story, we could inject it—even if it wasn’t naturally trending.”
Interestingly, the former curators say that Facebook also censored trending stories about itself.
“We were always cautious about covering Facebook,” another former curator said. “We would always wait to get second level approval before trending something to Facebook. Usually we had the authority to trend anything on our own [but] if it was something involving Facebook, the copy editor would call their manager, and that manager might even call their manager before approving a topic involving Facebook.”
Facebook has since denied the allegations of conservative censorship since the claims came out, and the company’s vice president of search, Tom Stocky, wrote that “we take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true,” adding that the scheme wouldn’t be “technically feasible” with the way the tools are designed.
Intriguingly, Gizmodo added an update to the article several hours after it was posted, stating that editors started seeing the report as a topic in Facebook’s trending section. Gizmodo was a source under the topic, but the “Top Posts” were links to Freedom Coalition, the Faith, and RedState.com — all conservative news sites. Coincidence?
You might also like: Women Only Mentioned in Media 18% of the Time