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May 10 2016

Facing Up to Facebook’s Liberal Bias

Patrice J. Lee

A former Facebook content curator admits that some conservative topics weren’t allowed to trend because of the liberal bias among staff.

Bias in the mainstream media gave rise to conservative news outlets and blogs. However, most Americans would assume that social media websites are politically neutral places where they can share or read political and ideological news and opinions. Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr for example would be places to find the content that your friends, family, or other influencers are reading. “Trending” content we assume is actually based on the number of people reading and sharing the same stories or commentary.

We don’t expect these platforms to discriminate by manipulating what is trending. However, we now have reason to question Facebook’s list of trending topics because behind the computer-generated algorithms are human manipulation and bias.

In an interview with Gizmodo, a former Facebook staffer on the news curating team admits that popular articles from politically conservative outlets on conservative topics were deliberately left off Facebook’s “trending news” sidebar. Some of those who got snubbed, the former curator recalled, included Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck. Even the conservative “prom” or CPAC, wasn’t allowed to trend on Facebook. Staffers either didn’t recognize the news as a newsworthy or they had a bias against the person/event/topic.

Instead, other topics were injected in the list of trending topics even if they were not trending.

Gizmodo reports:

These new allegations emerged after Gizmodo last week revealed details about the inner workings of Facebook’s trending news team—a small group of young journalists, primarily educated at Ivy League or private East Coast universities, who curate the “trending” module on the upper-right-hand corner of the site…

“I believe it had a chilling effect on conservative news.”

“Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,” said the former curator. This individual asked to remain anonymous, citing fear of retribution from the company. …

The former curator was so troubled by the omissions that they kept a running log of them at the time; this individual provided the notes to Gizmodo. Among the deep-sixed or suppressed topicson the list: former IRS official Lois Lerner, who was accused by Republicans of inappropriately scrutinizing conservative groups; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; popular conservative news aggregator the Drudge Report; Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL who was murdered in 2013; and former Fox News contributor Steven Crowder. “I believe it had a chilling effect on conservative news,” the former curator said.

Stories covered by conservative outlets (like Breitbart, Washington Examiner, and Newsmax) that were trending enough to be picked up by Facebook’s algorithm were excluded unless mainstream sites like the New York Times, the BBC, and CNN covered the same stories.

Facebook denies the allegations and other curators also denied the allegations. However, Facebook staff has the ability to manipulate anything on the website, and it does appear that they tamper with content and news feeds to control for conservative views. While technology may be unbiased, those who control it are not.

Social media, pioneered by Facebook over twelve years ago, is to our generation what the Gutenberg printing press was in the 1440s. With the invention of one tool, knowledge could be disseminated quickly and widely – disrupting the traditional means of information sharing and lifting the masses.

Perhaps this is a chance for Facebook to take stock of its own biases.

IIndependent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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