From the moment Facebook launched its trending news section in 2014, the company insisted that it was an unfiltered list of the stories users were reading and sharing. But according to a new feature article in Gizmodo, curators were regularly told to filter out news that would appeal to conservative users. They interviewed several former Facebook employees to find that the trending news feature is not nearly as neutral as Mark Zuckerberg would have the world believe.
“The section, which launched in 2014, constitutes some of the most powerful real estate on the internet and helps dictate what news Facebook’s users—167 million in the US alone—are reading at any given moment,” writes Gizmodo.
In their interviews, the tech site found that curators had manually removed trending stories about Mitt Romney, CPAC, Rand Paul, Glenn Beck, Ted Cruz, and more.
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 topics on 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.
Additionally, Facebook curators would, when possible, remove a story from a site like Breitbart and replace it with the same story from a more “neutral” outlet like the New York Times.
Removing conservative stories wasn’t the only aspect of the tampering. The curators also confirmed that they would sometimes inject certain stories that were not trending naturally.
“Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter,” one former curator told Gizmodo. “They realized it was a problem, and they boosted it in the ordering. They gave it preference over other topics. When we injected it, everyone started saying, ‘Yeah, now I’m seeing it as number one’.”
As a private company, Facebook can do whatever it wants with regards to their trending news section. They can fill it up with stories from Mother Jones and Slate if they want. They can take their cues from the Huffington Post and attach a little editor’s note to every story about Donald Trump, calling him a racist and a misogynist. It’s up to them.
But users deserve to know that Facebook is not the neutral, objective news source it claims to be.