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Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg met with conservatives over the ‘trending’ bias spat

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg met with several leading conservatives on Wednesday to try and quell concerns that the world's largest social network is politically biased.

The meeting came after tech blog Gizmodo said Facebook suppressed pro-conservative stories and forced others to artificially appear in the social media site's influential "trending topics" list.

Zuckerberg has denied the allegations in the article and invited a group of conservatives to Facebook's Menlo Park, CA campus in a meeting described as "productive" by several of the attendees.

"We've built Facebook to be a platform for all ideas. Our community's success depends on everyone feeling comfortable sharing anything they want. It doesn't make sense for our mission or our business to suppress political content or prevent anyone from seeing what matters most to them," Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook.

"The reality is, conservatives and Republicans have always been an important part of Facebook. Donald Trump has more fans on Facebook than any other presidential candidate. And Fox News drives more interactions on its Facebook page than any other news outlet in the world. It's not even close."



In response to Gizmodo's story, Facebook released internal guidelines that showed the extent to which human curators could shape the computer-generated trending topics list. Facebook then published its own overview of how trending topics worked.

Among the attendees were:

  • Radio host Glenn Beck
  • Dana Perino of Fox News
  • American Enterprise Institute's Arthur Brooks
  • Senior Donald Trump campaign aid Barry Bennett
  • Mitt Romney's former digital director Zack Moffat

In a tweet Bennett praised the "great meeting" but said more work needed to be done.

Brooks explained in a Facebook post that they talked about the censorship allegations with Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, the company's chief operating officer and other leadership figures. He added that they understand conservative Americans were "frustrated and angry" by the allegations of bias.

S.E. Cupp, a host on CNN, said the meeting was "very productive", adding that it was "not a photo-op, but a constructive dialogue".

‘Wrong conclusion’

Beyond the Gizmodo article, conservatives have been suspicious of Facebook's political leaning since Zuckerberg gave a speech last month in which he appeared to attack Donald Trump.

"As I look around and I travel around the world, I'm starting to see people and nations turning inward, against this idea of a connected world and a global community. I hear fearful voices calling for building walls and distancing people they label as others," the Facebook boss said.

And not all conservatives accepted Zuckerberg's peace offering. Chairman of lobby group the American Conservative Union (ACU) declined the invitation from Facebook.

"Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg are drawing the wrong conclusion from the negative response from conservatives. It appears that they believe they can avoid having to answer for their actions by hosting conservative luminaries at their state-of-the-art headquarters," ACU chair Matt Schlapp said in a statement on Tuesday.

He reiterated several issues the organization still has with Facebook.

"Facebook has harmed its credibility with conservatives, but if they want to mend the relationship, we're happy to sit down with their experts about how they can better strike a balance between sterile algorithms choosing news content and when a human curator decides to put a finger on the scale. If Facebook wants the benefit of the doubt, they need to start with complete transparency on how decisions are made concerning its newsfeeds," Schlapp added.