Facebook 'Trending News' Accused of Political Bias

John Lister's picture

Facebook has rejected claims that its staff manually 'suppressed' conservative-slanted news stories in its trending topics feature. That hasn't satisfied a Senate committee which has now demanded more information about how the feature works.

The feature is the list of news articles that appears on the Facebook web page when users are logged in. It's presented as a list of the news topics and stories that users are most sharing and talking about on the site, with the impression being that its a purely objective ranking based on raw numbers. Trending Topics is separate to the main news feed that's made up of status updates, pictures and articles shared by the user's own friends.

Conservative Sites And Stories Downplayed

However, tech site Gizmodo cites several former Facebook staff who say colleagues manipulated the rankings with editorial control. In particular, they manually removed stories about Facebook itself and stories which were on conservative topics. They also tweaked the calculations to downplay the importance of some "non-mainstream" news sites with a conservative slant. (Source: gizmodo.com)

The staff say these manipulations were purely the result of individual staff actions and that Facebook management neither ordered nor knew about the changes. They do say managers told them to manually add stories which were being covered strongly by major news sites but weren't 'organically' showing up in the Facebook rankings.

In many cases, this became a self-fulfilling prophecy: the inclusion of a story in the trending topics meant more Facebook users read it and went on to share it, meaning the stories would then get to the top of the ranking 'for real.'

Facebook Says Editors Are Simply Hoax-Busters

Facebook told the Wall Street Journal there's no evidence the claims of bias and manipulation are true. It says that although human editors do tweak the rankings, this is only done to remove the influence of hoaxes and bogus stories, and never for political reasons. (Source: facebook.com)

The Senate Commerce Committee has now asked Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg to explain exactly how the trending topics feature works; whether and how it has investigated the allegations of political bias; and what measures it takes to stop such behavior.

It's also asked for a complete list of stories that have been manually removed from or added to the automatically generated list since January 2014.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you believe the allegations are true and if so, does it matter? Do you believe Facebook should have to reveal if it manually manipulates the rankings? Is this an appropriate issue for Senators to investigate and does Facebook's size and influence make any difference to the issue?

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Dennis Faas's picture

Fox news is alleged to be one of the most politically slanted news stations on television - so I am not sure why the senate needs to get involved with Facebook. If there is any kind of ruling, I am not sure how that will play out with how "reporting" is done on television stations, for example.

J2saret_7013's picture

These sorts of political bullying are nothing new. Various congress critters use these hearings to agitate their base, and extract concessions from the subject of the investigation. Shakespeare said it best : "a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". I don't get my news from Facebook so I have no opinion about their news feed but congress has been a dismal fact of my life since the middle of the last century so I tend to support what ever congress is posturing and posing against.

Tessman_Ian's picture

Compared to MSNBC and Cris Mathew's tingling leg, Fox is straight dowm the middle. :-)

dan400man's picture


gmthomas44_4203's picture

Exactly J2Saret, "So what else is new?" The great unwashed masses don't need to see the 'wrong' news, everyone knows that.

katyggls's picture

What a ridiculous waste of time. Facebook is a private corporation, therefore it's a person, and has the right to free speech. Conservatives wanted it this way.

kitekrazy's picture

WRONG!!!!!!!!! A true conservative (no exist in Regress) understands this is a violation of free speech unless there is some government funding involved in Facebook.

I'd say this is also a strawman since people in certain areas of employment have dropped Facebook. It's not really popular anymore.

matt_2058's picture

Like Congress has nothing better to do than get involved in a social media feature. As already said it's free speech to report...or repeat... what you find important. What's next, oversee regular board meetings to direct the company in daily matters?

Maybe if Congress would streamline their own work by cutting the BS and stick to running the country rather than getting involved in State business they'd have some free time. Honestly....they spend most of the year in DC...or on trips. It always amazes me that issues drag along, where in the corporate world the company would be irrelevant if it took that amount of time to make a decision and implement it.

guyser01's picture

Watch Fox for a while to see news that the major network news broadcasts do not even mention about BOTH sides of the aisle, then talk about a political slant.