Facebook news curators regularly suppress conservative news stories, hiding or removing them from Facebook’s popular “trending news” feature, revealed a former Facebook employee to the website Gizmodo in a startling report on the social media giant’s practices.
Employees were also instructed to “inject” selected news stories which had not actually garnered enough views or mentions to warrant inclusion in the feed, hand-picking topics and agendas which Facebook wanted to promote even if they were not actually trending at all.
The bombshell article directly contradicts Facebook’s claim that the trending module lists only “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook” and that the feed relies solely on algorithms to provide news. It also confirms suspicions that the company leans leftwards in its politics.
Topics suppressed by the news curators, the former employee told Gizmodo, included organically trending stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Republican politicians Mitt Romney and Paul Rand, and conservative commentator Glenn Beck.
Among the omissions were stories about “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,” read the article.
The biased curating “had a chilling effect on conservative news,” said the ex-employee.
Another former employee told Gizmodo, “It was absolutely bias. We were doing it subjectively. It just depends on who the curator is and what time of day it is.”
Even when a conservative story came up, the curators were told to only cite non-conservative news sources. “Every once in awhile a Red State or conservative news source would have a story. But we would have to go and find the same story from a more neutral outlet that wasn’t as biased,” the employee revealed.
In other words, the article explained, trending stories covered by conservative news outlets like Breitbart “were excluded unless mainstream sites like the New York Times, the BBC, and CNN covered the same stories.”
At the same time, other news stories which weren’t naturally trending were artificially inserted into the feed if Facebook felt that they weren’t getting enough coverage.
In some cases, the company injected stories whose non-appearance on the site “would make Facebook look bad,” said one former curator, giving the example of the conflict in Syria and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which was a response to perceived excessive police brutality against black victims throughout America.
“Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter,” said the ex-employee. “They realized it was a problem, and they boosted it in the ordering. They gave it preference over other topics.”
Gizmodo concluded that Facebook, like many other news outlets, represents “a select group of professionals with vaguely center-left sensibilities” but, unlike the others, the company also has the unique power to “influence what billions of users see”.
Facebook has been the subject of political controversy before. An experiment conducted by civil rights NGO Shurat HaDin (the Israel Law Center) in October proved without a doubt that Facebook was biased against Israel after suspicions began to emerge that the company was purposefully allowing inciteful, violent pages encouraging Arabs to attack and kill Jews to remain live even after repeated reporting.
The organization created two fake Facebook pages, one anti-Jewish and one anti-Arab, each full of nearly-identical inciting posts against Jews and Palestinians respectively, to test how Facebook would react. Shurat HaDin reported both pages simultaneously; the page inciting against Palestinians was taken down immediately. The anti-Jewish page, however, remained up, with Facebook claiming that it did not violate the company’s community standards.
Shurat HaDin has brought a class-action lawsuit against the billion-dollar company and is in the process of suing Facebook for encouraging violence and allowing incitement against Jews to be posted and publicized by users.