We didn’t do anything wrong, but we’ll stop doing it.
That’s pretty much what Facebook said late Monday by changing the policies it insisted did not need to be changed in order to stop the suppression of news stories that appear favorable to conservatives in its Trending Topics section.
Facebook Inc (FB.O) said on Monday that it had changed some of the procedures for its “Trending Topics” section after a news report alleging it suppressed conservative news prompted a U.S. Congressional demand for more transparency.
The company said an internal probe showed no evidence of political bias in the selection of news stories for Trending Topics, a feature that is separate from the main “news feed” where most Facebook users get their news.
But the world’s largest social network said in a blogpost that it was introducing several changes, including elimination of a top-ten list of approved websites, more training and clearer guidelines to help human editors avoid ideological or political bias, and more robust review procedures.
Earlier this month, a former Facebook contractor had accused the company’s editors of deliberately suppressing conservative news. The allegations were reported by technology news website Gizmodo, which did not identify the ex-contractor.
The report led Republican Sen. John Thune to write a letter demanding that the company explain how it selects news articles for its Trending Topics list.
Based on the various stories I read, it sounded like the key here was the list of approved web sites. Editors were told that if they found something on a conservative site like this one, they had to affirm it on a “trustworthy” site like, er, the New York Times. So it’s not as if they were told, “Don’t post stories about Fast and Furious or the IRS scandal!” They were told to make sure the New York Times and other MSM sites were also covering them. And since we all know the MSM likes to ignore stories that are trending on conservative media, voila! De facto bias.
But if the Gizmodo story was accurate, Facebook editors were at least in some instances putting their fingers on the scales by promoting pro-left movements like Black Lives Matter. If they’re not doing “more training” to stop that, I suspect that probably means they’re changing earlier training that very much encouraged it.
By the way, I remain troubled by the fact that the U.S. Senate got involved with this, and I hope that they drop it now that Facebook is changing their policies. As much as I didn’t like Facebook’s bias, which was impossible not to notice, it’s a private company (not privately held but operating in the private sector) and they can do whatever they want. Is the Senate going to haul Arianna Huffington before an investigative committee for making Huffington Post both liberal and completely inane? If the Democrats take back the Senate this year, will Harry Reid be issuing subpoenas to Herman, Rob and me? (Actually, I guarantee we would make that entertaining.)
That said, it does matter - a lot - when the news media tilts the scales in favor of the left in its news coverage, and I’m glad Facebook is at least making a show of changing its procedures. We’ll see if it actually makes a difference. Far too many people rely on Facebook’s Trending Topics section for their news, and they never fail to find out when a celebrity has a nipple slip or World Turtle Day arrives. It would be nice if they also knew the effects of big government and the insane agenda of the secular left.
Maybe that will start to change now. Maybe.