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NY Times, Gizmodo

Chairman of Senate Commerce Committee Demands That Facebook Explain Its Handling of News Articles

May 11, 2016  •  Post A Comment

Facebook is under scrutiny after a report surfaced suggesting that the social media site has routinely suppressed stories with a conservative political focus. Following the Gizmodo story published this week, The New York Times reports that Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, demanded Tuesday that Facebook explain its handling of news stories on its “trending” list.

The Gizmodo story cites a former journalist who worked on the Facebook “trending” feature. “This individual says that workers prevented stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the highly influential section, even though they were organically trending among the site’s users,” Gizmodo reports.

“Several former Facebook ‘news curators,’ as they were known internally, also told Gizmodo that they were instructed to artificially ‘inject’ selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion — or in some cases weren’t trending at all,” Gizmodo adds.

The Times notes that Facebook released a statement Monday denying that its curators manipulated content. Thune, R-S.D., reportedly sent a letter to Facebook Tuesday asking that the company provide records of articles that were excluded or added by curators.

Talking to reporters Tuesday, Thune said: “If there’s any level of subjectivity associated with it, or if, as reports have suggested that there might have been, an attempt to suppress conservative stories or keep them from trending and get other stories out there, I think it’s important for people to know that. That’s just a matter of transparency and honesty, and there shouldn’t be any attempt to mislead the American public.”

The Times adds: “Mr. Thune’s actions raised further questions about the content seen by the 1.6 billion people who regularly use Facebook. The platform’s growing role as an arena for news distribution has raised some concerns that it could have undue influence over the flow of information, but any effort by the federal government to regulate or investigate editorial decisions could run into First Amendment protections.”

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2 Comments

  1. There are many assumptions about trending topics in Facebook that are not clearly answerable. First, one assumption is that there are no persons out there orchestrating Facebook posts about some topics. We know there have been orchestrated efforts of competitors artificially increasing the click-through rates of their competition through efforts of their idle employees. Second, some posters are more influential among a large network of people than others. Third, there are competitors to Facebook who want to give this story legs. Fourth, what is the evidence from print media that stories appearing in print media were suppressed by Facebook? Fifth, what were other web sources reporting that Facebook was not? As a researcher who is well trained in research methods, there are many possible conclusions that may be drawn other than Facebook manipulated the results. Sometimes there are rogue employees operating on their own agendas that are not passed down from superiors. Where is the evidence of high-level management sanctioning this practice? There may be such evidence, but it is a bit premature to not only indict, but convict on hearsay evidence.

  2. And perhaps the same scrutiny will be applied to cable news networks, such as Fox News.

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