Facebook Looks Into Bias Claims

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg last week announced that the company would investigate allegations that its Trending Topics feature had an anticonservative bias.

“We have found no evidence that this report is true,” he said, referring to a news report earlier this month that kicked off the storm. “If we find anything against our principles, you have my commitment that we will take additional steps to address it.”

The company “stands for giving everyone a voice,” Zuckerberg said. “We are one global community where anyone can share anything — from a loving photo of a mother and her baby to intellectual analysis of political events.”

It is “conducting a full investigation to ensure our teams upheld the integrity” of Trending Topics, he asserted, adding that he would hold discussions with “leading conservatives and people from across the political spectrum” on the allegations.

Accusations of Bias

Gizmodo spoke to five former curators of Trending Topics, who selected trending news from a list topics provided by Facebook’s algorithm and picked which news sites each selected topic linked to.

The curators reportedly were told to select articles from a list of preferred media outlets. They regularly would avoid certain sites, such as The Blaze and Breitbart, although they were not explicitly instructed to do so.

They could deactivate or blacklist trending topics, according to the report.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, wrote to Zuckerberg, demanding that Facebook answer “these serious allegations and hold those responsible to account if there has been political bias in the dissemination of trending news.”

“Doesn’t every person, company and news agency have a bias?” asked Jim McGregor, a principal analyst at Tirias Research. “Hell, yes.”

Editors “must make choices on what news to cover, and that goes for anyone covering the news,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Unfortunately that leads to coverage according to personal biases, the agency’s biases and the push for clicks. So, is Facebook guilty of anything that other press agencies aren’t guilty of? Probably not.”

No Voice for Everyone

Facebook previously has pledged to remove anti-immigrant posts from its pages in Germany.

Further, Zed Books’ Facebook page had been removed following a series of posts on books by Ece Temelkuran, a Turkish journalist critical of her country’s government, it said.

Touchy Subject

“Censoring Web posts and Facebooks is a delicate topic,” McGregor said. What should and should not be considered free speech, what’s appropriate, and whether governments should get a say in content on the Internet “are all touchy subjects subject to local and regional ethical standards.”

Even if Facebook absolutely was unbiased, “folks who disagree with something on, or left off, of Facebook would conclude it’s biased,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Arguing that Facebook is a business and therefore can’t afford to antagonize governments of various countries, or, in the case of Germany, is working for the greater good by suppressing hate speech “won’t do them any real good because the folks they likely need to convince will have made up their minds and the core goal is to manipulate Facebook,” he told TechNewsWorld.

All About Engagement

“I don’t think Facebook will lose advertising dollars over this,” said Zhaowen Wu, an analyst at Strategy Analytics.

“Facebook cares about engagement, and biases aside, they will continue to drive their internal metrics towards greater engagement numbers,” she told TechNewsWorld.

The company “could effectively lose half their audience if one side or the other came to believe [it] was actively biased, and it might be sanctioned or blocked in a number of countries,” Enderle noted. It also could be hurt financially “if the brands that advertise feel Facebook’s problems will damage their image — and we’ve seen that boycotts can have a huge impact on advertisers.”

Its best option, he said, is to “get credible conservative influencers to back up their claims and hope the left doesn’t suddenly start screaming bias as well.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

1 Comment

  • I think that bias can happen in any news system that is setup like Facebook. But is it any different than a Fox news or Drudge being conservative and a MSNBC or CNN being more liberal in story reporting. In the US people don’t want sterile news stories they want a certain spoon fed viewpoint on news that satisfies their ideology and beliefs. If I had to tag Zuckerberg I would say he is much more liberal in his viewpoints and would think that would translate into his company too. Just like any head of a newsroom or person who chooses news stories. But if you want more than a liberal or a conservative filtered version. You are probably seeking out other alternatives. I don’t believe in this political correct policing Facebook is accused of. They are not there to silence opinion. They should be there to make sure you can express yourself without being suppressed. The users of Facebook should be the ones to accept or reject opinion based on votes. Everyone has the same right to be heard. Even if you do not agree with them.

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