Facebook’s Tom Stocky Denies Accusations From Ex-Employees That the Site Manipulated ‘Trending’ Section

By Denisse Moreno
Denisse Moreno
Denisse Moreno
May 10, 2016 Updated: May 10, 2016

Facebook Vice President for Search, Tom Stocky, denied allegations from former employees that claim workers manipulate the platform’s “trending” section on May 9.

Former Facebook employees who worked from mid-2014 to December 2015 told Gizmodo that 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.

Stocky, who is in charge of Trending Topics, said in a statement on Facebook that the accusations were not true.

“We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true,” said Stocky.

The VP said Facebook has “rigorous guidelines” 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,” stated Stocky.

He also said the trending section was created to showcase what people are talking about on Facebook. Stocky explained that the popular topics are surfaced by an algorithm first, then audited and reviewed by the site’s employees to confirm that the topics are in fact trending.

The VP said, “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.”

According to an ex-worker who talked to Gizmodo, Facebook forced the Black Lives Matter movement by injecting it into the trending section.

“Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter,” the source said.

We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so.
— Tom Stocky, Facebook

However, Stocky said in his statement that the accusations are not true.

“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,” said Stocky.

The VP closed his statement by saying that Facebook’s review guidelines for their trending section are under constant review and that it will continue to “look for improvements.”

Both Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg “liked” Stocky’s post that included his statement.