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Facebook denies censoring conservative stories from its trending topics section

A senior Facebook executive has denied allegations the social network suppresses conservative-leaning stories from its "trending" sidebar.

On Monday, technology news site Gizmodo published a report citing a former journalist who worked at Facebook, suggesting that workers stopped stories about conservative topics from appearing from the "trending" section.

The Facebook "trending" sidebar appears on the right-hand side of the webpage. It is supposed to reflect the most talked about stories on the social network.

Gizmodo claimed:

  • Curators at Facebook who choose the articles to appear in the trending section were blocking conservative-focused articles from being surfaced.
  • Stories covered by conservative outlets such as Breitbart that were trending enough to be picked up by Facebook's algorithm were excluded unless mainstream sites like the New York Times, the BBC, and CNN covered the same stories.
  • Managers "explicitly" instructed curators to put stories that users weren't reading but that management views as important, into the trending news feed. One such example was the "Black Lives Matter" movement in the U.S. , which was inserted.

But Tom Stocky, Facebook's head of search, refuted the allegations in a post on his personal Facebook page on Tuesday.

"We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true," Stocky wrote.

"Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum. 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."

Facebook's trending topics section
Facebook's trending topics section

He explained that trending topics are first surfaced by an algorithm and then audited by a review team to confirm that the topics are trending in the real world and not "similar-sounding topics or misnomers". Stocky added that reviewers are instructed to disregard junk or duplicate topics, hoaxes, or subjects with insufficient sources" but added that it does not allow curators to discriminate against sources of any ideological origin. He said that Facebook has designed its tools to make this "technically not feasible".

Facebook reviews and logs the actions of the curators and any violation of its guidelines is a "fireable offense", Stocky said.

The social networking site also looked into the allegation that Facebook reviewers artificially inserted the Black Lives Matter topic into the trending section and found that it was "untrue".

"Our review guidelines for Trending Topics are under constant review, and we will continue to look for improvements. We will also keep looking into any questions about Trending Topics to ensure that people are matched with the stories that are predicted to be the most interesting to them, and to be sure that our methods are as neutral and effective as possible," Stocky concluded.