Former Facebook employees who worked from mid-2014 to December 2015 say the social media platform headed by Mark Zuckerberg routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the “trending” news section.
A journalist who worked for Facebook told Gizmodo that employees averted stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, politicians Mitt Romney and Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from showing up in the section, even though they were organically trending.
Various former Facebook “news curators” claim they were ordered to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending section, even though they weren’t popular enough to be included or weren’t trending at all.
“Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,” said the former curator who asked to be anonymous.
“I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz,” the former employee told Gizmodo.
Some topics that were downplayed were: former IRS official Lois Lerner, who was accused by Republicans of inappropriately scrutinizing conservative groups; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; conservative news site the Drudge Report; Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL who was killed in 2013; and former Fox News contributor Steven Crowder.
“I believe it had a chilling effect on conservative news,” the former curator stated.
“It was absolutely bias. We were doing it subjectively. It just depends on who the curator is and what time of day it is,” said another former curator to Gizmodo.
Another ex-curator said stories covered by conservative outlets, like Breitbart, Washington Examiner, and Newsmax, that were popular enough to be picked up by Facebook’s algorithm were avoided until mainstream news sites like the New York Times, the BBC, and CNN covered the same stories.
The ‘Injection Tool’
Managers on the trending news team instructed curators to artificially influence the trending module by pushing stories that they felt were important by putting them in the trending news feed.
Former workers say Facebook use an “injection tool” to push stories in the trending section. In some instances after the tool was used the topics moved up to number one on the trending module.
“We were told that if we saw something, a news story that was on the front page of these ten sites, like CNN, the New York Times, and BBC, then we could inject the topic,” said one former curator.
“If it looked like it had enough news sites covering the story, we could inject it—even if it wasn’t naturally trending,” added the source.
Facebook also wanted to be ahead on breaking news. Former employees said the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris were forced into the trending section.
Facebook has been competing with Twitter when it comes to breaking stories, and ex-curators explained the frustration within the the company.
“We would get yelled at if it was all over Twitter and not on Facebook,” one former curator said.
According to an ex-worker, Facebook forced the Black Lives Matter movement by injecting it in the trending section.
“Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter,” the source said.
“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,'” added the former curator.
Stories that had to do with the social media platform itself were approached with extra precaution.
“When it was a story about the company, we were told not to touch it,” said one former curator, who said they were told to not put Facebook stories on the trending tool.
The Facebook trending section was launched in 2014.
“It wasn’t trending news at all,” said the former curator who logged conservative news suppressions, “It was an opinion.”