Facebook Denies Censoring Conservative News

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A bombshell report from tech site Gizmodo this week confirmed what many critics have been saying for years – that Facebook’s Trending Topics section is deliberately manipulated to reflect the political biases of CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other leftists involved in the social network. Several anonymous curators told Gizmodo that they were instructed to remove genuinely trending stories that happened to be of interest to conservative readers.

A day after the allegations were published, Facebook’s Tom Stocky released a statement defending his company.

“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,” said Stocky. He said that Facebook officials had “found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true.”

Stocky said that the site’s human curators were only charged with editing the topics to avoid redundancy and baseless stories.

“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,” he said.

Republican Senator John Thune, Chairman for the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, wrote a letter to Zuckerberg asking for a more detailed look at the site’s Trending Topics policies.

“Please describe Facebook’s organization structure for the Trending Topics feature, and the steps for determining included topics. Who is ultimately responsible for approving its content?” asked Thune.

Of course, there’s nothing compelling Facebook to respond to these inquiries. Like any other private website, they are fully within their legal rights to take any political position they want. They don’t even have to be transparent about it.

At the same time, this isn’t – as some liberal news sites have said – a frivolous inquiry. If the Senate concludes that Facebook is engaged in a deliberate effort to marginalize conservative viewpoints, it could forever alter the way millions of users look at the Trending Topics. Liberal bias thrives on invisibility. If everyone knows the news section is filtered through a political agenda, Facebook will no longer have the advantage that comes with perceived neutrality.

“Facebook must answer these serious allegations and hold those responsible to account if there has been political bias in the dissemination of trending news,” Thune said. “Any attempt by a neutral and inclusive social media platform to censor or manipulate political discussion is an abuse of trust and inconsistent with the values of an open Internet.”

At the very least, this episode should serve as another reminder that all news – regardless of its source – should be regarded with a healthy dose of skepticism.