Facebook announced yesterday that it will be reducing the “human factor” in how it displays its Trending Topics on the right hand corner of users’ home page. The news comes after controversy arose earlier this year over whether editors working for Facebook are silencing conservative news.
Gizmodo, the tech news website run by Gawker Media, published a story last May with accusations from Pamela Geller, identified as a former Facebook “news curator”, that fellow curators kept news stories from being featured in Trending Topics. These stories primarily related to Republican politicians such as Mitt Romney and Rand Paul, and politically conservative news events such as the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
The Gizmodo report triggered backlash from conservatives. Some pundits were invited to Facebook headquarters to meet with Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, who worked to reassure them that the social media site had no political agenda.
Last Monday, Facebook denied any bias in a press release and a letter sent directly to John Thune, the chairman of the US Senate commerce committee. The following is an excerpt from the Press Release:
As soon as we heard of these allegations, we initiated an investigation into the policies and practices around Trending Topics to determine if anyone working on the product acted in ways that are inconsistent with our policies and mission. We spoke with current reviewers and their supervisors, as well as a cross-section of former reviewers; spoke with our contractor; reviewed our guidelines, training, and practices; examined the effectiveness of our oversight; and analyzed data on the implementation of our guidelines by reviewers. We also talked to leading conservatives, to gain valuable feedback and insights.
Our investigation has revealed no evidence of systematic political bias in the selection or prominence of stories included in the Trending Topics feature. Our data analysis indicated that conservative and liberal topics are approved as trending topics at virtually identical rates. We were also unable to substantiate any of the specific allegations of politically-motivated suppression of particular subjects or sources. In fact, we confirmed that most of the subjects mentioned in media reports were included as trending topics on multiple occasions.
At the same time, our investigation could not fully exclude the possibility of isolated improper actions or unintentional bias in the implementation of our guidelines or policies. As part of our commitment to continually improve our products and to minimize risks where human judgment is involved, we are making a number of improvements to Trending Topics, including:
Updated terminology in our Guidelines to make them more clear
Refresher training for all reviewers that emphasized that content decisions may not be made on the basis of politics or ideology
Additional controls and oversight around the review team, including robust escalation procedures
Instead of showing a headline and a summary, the trending topics will now just show an algorithmically selected topic, like “Olympics,” as well as the number of people talking about it. As well, Facebook said it will stop using a team of contractors that sort through the news, some of whom anonymously leaked concerns about bias to the news site Gizmodo.
However, this news does not come with full reassurance for some social media critics. Algorithms, which are written and tweaked by humans, may still have bias. Facebook said the new, more-technical solution will still require some human intervention, to make sure mundane topics selected by its software, like #lunch, don’t become trending news.
About Alex Noudelman
Alex Noudelman is an educator, coach and Digital Marketing Manager with over 5 years of experience. Alex enjoys and strives to motivate others to better themselves professionally and on a personal note. Feel free to contact him if you have any questions or would like a specific topic covered.