Facebook responds to allegations that Trending Topics are rigged
Are Facebook Trending Topics slanted? One might think so, based on an anonymous report. Not so fast, says Facebook.
Yesterday, a report surfaced on Gizmodo that Facebook’s Trending Topics team was suppressing conservative news stories from appearing on the influential sidebar of the social network. Specifically, the report alleged that content regarding Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, murdered Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and other conservative issues was explicitly being refused visibility under Trending Topics despite its prominence in discussions across social media, thereby affecting its trending status.
Curators also dropped another bombshell to Gizmodo writers: the allegation that Facebook occasionally instructed the artificial injection of stories that were not trending to give them wider visibility. Instead of really allowing stories that truly trended to reach the home page, it was alleged that there was a process of manual selection to help amplify posts on the sidebar.
After the news surfaced and trended across non-Facebook circles, Facebook’s team was forced to respond. On his Facebook page, Tom Stocky, VP of search at Facebook, addressed the allegations.
Stocky began, “We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true.”
From a Facebook perspective, it is imperative to maintain “consistency and neutrality,” Stocky said. As such, suppressing political perspective is disallowed, especially if the current conversation on Facebook is revolving around these topics. Trending Topics are typically surfaced by an algorithm, but then a manual team of curators will validate whether they should be further amplified to the highly influential sidebar. In fact, violating guidelines, which require reviewers to accept real-world events, ignore hoaxes and disregard junk or duplicate topics, is a “fireable offense,” as is discriminating “against sources of any ideological origin.”
The full text of Stocky’s response is below.
Update May 12, 4:15pm: The Guardian has published Facebook’s official guidelines for Trending News which show that humans are intervening at every stage of the trending news operation.