Facebook is now strongly refuting claims that it suppressed conservative Trends after issuing a more vague and indirect PR statement earlier today about having neutrality guidelines.
Facebook has “found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true” wrote VP of search Tom Stocky on the social network tonight at 9:30pm pacific May 9th, regarding a Gizmodo report from sources who said they were formerly on the team that chose what Trends appeared on Facebook’s site.
“Facebook does not allow or advise our reviewers to systematically discriminate against sources of any ideological origin and we’ve designed our tools to make that technically not feasible. At the same time, our reviewers’ actions are logged and reviewed, and violating our guidelines is a fireable offense.”
[Update 10pm pacific, May 10th: This article has been significantly updated to reflect the new statement released by Facebook VP Tom Stocky directly refuting the claims of biased trends.]
Facebook’s earlier statement about having neutrality guidelines left it unclear whether any contractors hired to curate the trend had potentially violated those rules. But now Stocky’s statement bluntly calls into question the allegations by Gizmodo’s sources.
Here’s Stocky’s full statement:
“My team is responsible for Trending Topics, and I want to address today’s reports alleging that Facebook contractors manipulated Trending Topics to suppress stories of interest to conservatives. We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true.
Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum. There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality. These guidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives. Nor do they permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another. These guidelines do not prohibit any news outlet from appearing in Trending Topics.
Trending Topics is designed to showcase the current conversation happening on Facebook. Popular topics are first surfaced by an algorithm, then audited by review team members to confirm that the topics are in fact trending news in the real world and not, for example, similar-sounding topics or misnomers.
We are proud that, in 2015, the US election was the most talked-about subject on Facebook, and we want to encourage that robust political discussion from all sides. We have in place strict guidelines for our trending topic reviewers as they audit topics surfaced algorithmically: reviewers are required to accept topics that reflect real world events, and are instructed to disregard junk or duplicate topics, hoaxes, or subjects with insufficient sources. Facebook does not allow or advise our reviewers to systematically discriminate against sources of any ideological origin and we’ve designed our tools to make that technically not feasible. At the same time, our reviewers’ actions are logged and reviewed, and violating our guidelines is a fireable offense.
There have been other anonymous allegations — for instance that we artificially forced #BlackLivesMatter to trend. We looked into that charge and found that it is untrue. We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so. Our guidelines do permit reviewers to take steps to make topics more coherent, such as combining related topics into a single event (such as #starwars and #maythefourthbewithyou), to deliver a more integrated experience.
Our review guidelines for Trending Topics are under constant review, and we will continue to look for improvements. We will also keep looking into any questions about Trending Topics to ensure that people are matched with the stories that are predicted to be the most interesting to them, and to be sure that our methods are as neutral and effective as possible.”
Stocky’s explanation suggests that Gizmodo’s sources may have exaggerated the claims.
Facebook’s assertions here mesh with a report from the New York Times this evening that says a former employees of Facebook’s trend curation team told it that “Any ‘suppression,’…was based on perceived credibility — any articles judged by curators to be unreliable or poorly sourced, whether left-leaning or right-leaning, were avoided, though this was a personal judgment call.”
It’s possible that what was perceived as suppression may have been shortcomings of the algorithm or hesitation to display Trends based on news outlets not deemed to be credible.
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SOURCE: Josh Constine (@joshconstine), Sarah Buhr (@sarahbuhr)