Update: The Senate just got involved... As ABC News report, Senator John Thune has sent letter to Facebook seeking information on alleged manipulation of news curation:
As we detailed earlier, in response to allegations from former Facebook staff that they censored right-wing 'just not liberal enough' news stories in the social network's feed, the man who is responsible for Facebook's "Trending Topics" has issued a statement directly refuting the claims of biases.
As TechCrunch noted, an earlier statement by Facebook that...
“Facebook does not allow or advise our reviewers to systematically discriminate against sources of any ideological origin and we’ve designed our tools to make that technically not feasible. At the same time, our reviewers’ actions are logged and reviewed, and violating our guidelines is a fireable offense.”
...left it unclear whether any contractors hired to curate the trend had potentially violated those rules.
However, VP of Search Ton Stocky's statement bluntly calls into question the allegations by Gizmodo’s sources.
Here’s Stocky’s full statement:
“My team is responsible for Trending Topics, and I want to address today’s reports alleging that Facebook contractors manipulated Trending Topics to suppress stories of interest to conservatives. We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true.
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.
Trending Topics is designed to showcase the current conversation happening on Facebook. Popular topics are first surfaced by an algorithm, then audited by review team members to confirm that the topics are in fact trending news in the real world and not, for example, similar-sounding topics or misnomers.
We are proud that, in 2015, the US election was the most talked-about subject on Facebook, and we want to encourage that robust political discussion from all sides. We have in place strict guidelines for our trending topic reviewers as they audit topics surfaced algorithmically: reviewers are required to accept topics that reflect real world events, and are instructed to disregard junk or duplicate topics, hoaxes, or subjects with insufficient sources. Facebook does not allow or advise our reviewers to systematically discriminate against sources of any ideological origin and we’ve designed our tools to make that technically not feasible. At the same time, our reviewers’ actions are logged and reviewed, and violating our guidelines is a fireable offense.
There have been other anonymous allegations — for instance that we artificially forced ?#BlackLivesMatter? to trend. We looked into that charge and found that it is untrue. We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so. Our guidelines do permit reviewers to take steps to make topics more coherent, such as combining related topics into a single event (such as ?#starwars? and?#maythefourthbewithyou?), to deliver a more integrated experience.
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.”
As TechCrunch concludes, Stocky’s explanation suggests that Gizmodo’s sources may have exaggerated the claims... It’s possible that what was perceived as suppression may have been shortcomings of the algorithm or hesitation to display Trends based on news outlets not deemed to be credible.
So to be clear - another entity accused of wrongdoing has undertaken an internal review and found no evidence of wrongdoing.
However, the report has already done significant damage to Facebook’s reputation with conservatives, and increased fears that it manipulates the world. Even if its records show no evidence of tampering with Trends, the perception of bias could haunt the company through the election season.