Facebook Investigation Finds Potential For Media Bias

Don’t call it an admission of guilt, but -- following an internal investigation -- Facebook is now less confident that Trending Topics were never influenced by bias against conservative media.

“Our investigation could not fully exclude the possibility of isolated improper actions or unintentional bias in the implementation of our guidelines or policies,” Colin Stretch, Facebook general counsel, writes in a letter to John Thune, chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee.

As a result, content reviewers will now be subjected to “refresher training,” which will emphasize Facebook’s opposition to media bias of any kind.

The social giant is also updating its guidelines to make that position more clear; increasing reviewer oversight; and implementing what Stretch calls “robust escalation procedures” for offending reviewers. 



Additionally, Facebook will no longer rely on lists of external Web sites and news outlets to identify, validate or assess the importance of particular topics.

“This means we will eliminate the ‘Media 1K’ list, the list of RSS feeds used to supplement the algorithm that generates potential trending topics, and the top-10 list of news outlets,” according to Stretch.

Facebook is also removing the ability to assign an “importance level” to a topic through assessment of its perceived prominence on the top-10 list of news outlets.

Earlier this month, Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg ordered the investigation into the company’s content editing policies.

To its credit, Facebook was quick to address the first condemning reports. Tom Stocky, VP of search at the social giant, insisted that the claims of bias were without merit.

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

Soon after Stocky’s statement, however, The Guardianpointed to leaked documents showing that human editors have plenty of opportunity to fiddle with the placement of news content in Trending Topics.

The report was not exactly inconsistent with Stocky’s description of his team’s protocol, but it contributed to a growing sense that Facebook was hiding something.

Soon thereafter, Senator Thune released a letter addressed to Zuckerberg in which he demanded that Facebook clarify its content review practices.

Along with the internal investigation, Zuckerberg hosted a meeting with prominent conservatives last week. By most reports, the meeting went well. “It did not, to me, feel like a photo op,” SE Cupp, a conservative columnist and CNN commentator, told CNN Money. “I got a very strong sense of concern and curiosity about our take on this problem.” Other conservatives in attendance included Glenn Beck, Jim DeMint, and Tucker Carlson.

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