Commentary

Facebook Denies 'Conservative' Content Kibosh

Coming off the grisliest Republican primary in history, plenty of people are tuning out “conservative” news and opinion. Yet, Facebook insists that it is not helping them do so.

Tom Stocky, VP of search at the social giant, says reports alleging that his team manipulated Trending Topics to suppress conservative content are without merit.

“We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true,” Stocky maintains in a new post.

“There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality,” Stocky notes. “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.”

Of course, Facebook’s engineers write the algorithms that determine how posts appear in users’ News Feeds -- and what stories show up in Trending Topics -- and those algorithms remain a closely guarded secret.

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Even after the algorithm works its magic, however, Stocky insists that Popular topics are audited by review team members to confirm that the topics are consistent with trending news in the real world.

“Reviewers are required to accept topics that reflect real world events,” according to Stocky. “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.”

In light of the accusations, I expect a growing chorus of critics to call for more algorithmic transparency. (After all, crying foul play has become a favorite pastime of liberals and conservatives alike.) But, this is highly proprietary property we’re talking about. That would be like asking Thomas’ to hand over its English Muffins recipe.

If the criticism continues, Facebook has other avenues to pursue. Reviewers’ actions are logged, Stocky says, so those records could always be released.

Hedging his defense, Stocky says that Facebook’s review guidelines for Trending Topics are themselves “under constant review” -- which is basically Facebook leaving open the possibility that its system might need some adjusting.

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