Facebook and Google have become the primary sources of news for a significant chunk of the developed world, which means that both companies are in a position to influence the opinions of millions of people by filtering out news stories that don’t match their agendas, and highlighting the ones that do. That’s a frightening thought, and in Facebook’s case, there’s a chance that it might actually be a reality. At least, that’s what Gizmodo claimed in a report on Sunday, saying that Facebook workers have routinely suppressed conservative news stories and injected anti-conservative news stories in the past, and possibly still do so.
Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential “trending” news section, according to a former journalist who worked on the project. This individual says that workers prevented stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the highly-influential section, even though they were organically trending among the site’s users. Several former Facebook “news curators,” as they were known internally, also told Gizmodo that they were instructed to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all. The former curators, all of whom worked as contractors, also said they were directed not to include news about Facebook itself in the trending module. In other words, Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing—but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.”