In news that all but confirms Facebook is slowly taking taking over the world via their constantly increasingly list of products and features, leaked documents have shown that the website curates their trending news topics rather than leaving it completely up to an algorithm. And, shocker, it might not be as unbiased as some people think! This entire week, Facebook has been trying to fight the “evil empire” reputation it is gaining based on a few recent controversies. An article run by Gizmodo included quotes from a former member of the trending topics team that did not make Facebook look remotely like a good guy in the situation. Among the allegations were that employees were mistreated, set apart from the rest of the company, and above all told to favor liberal news outlets while suppressing more conservative news sources.
The new document’s section on “importance” level tells a more complex story than simple anti-conservative bias. The document designates 10 outlets as particularly central, and instructs editors to only label a topic as a “National Story” or “Major Story” based on how many of those publications placed the news on their front page. The publications include TheNew York Times, BBC News, and USA Today as well as a number of conservative outlets like Fox News and The Wall Street Journal.
Still, editors could only choose between topics that had been surfaced by Facebook’s trending algorithm, which monitors news websites as well as activity by Facebook users. In the event that a newsworthy event was not detected by the system, editors were instructed to flag the topic for the engineering team.
So basically, the news team could still choose more liberal stories as long as they were surfaced by the algorithm first and then made available for inclusion. Even though conservative sources are on the list doesn’t mean the team regularly went to that well when deciding what to highlight and what to suppress. The documents mention that each editor used their own judgement on what to use as each story’s main link or source. This latest twist might help Facebook say that they don’t actively encourage the ignoring of conservative news outlets, but it also leaves a lot of questions hanging about their general practices. Once you go evil, it’s harder to pull a U-turn back to “everybody loves you town” than it seems.
(Via The Verge)