A recent meeting of the minds between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and 16 conservative leaders served as an olive branch of sorts. Zuckerberg was out to prove his platform wasn’t biased in a liberal-leaning direction. Conservatives wanted answers after accusations surfaced that the social media platform was seeking, behind the scenes, to keep conservative topics out of Facebook’s trending news feed.
The meeting between Zuckerberg and some of the right’s heaviest hitters – including Jim DeMint, president of the Heritage Foundation; Glenn Beck, conservative radio host and publisher; and Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center – was meant to allay concerns.
The sticky controversy related to Facebook’s alleged bias erupted when Gizmodo reported that Facebook’s news curators didn’t rely solely on an unbiased algorithm to select topics for Facebook’s trending news feature. Former Facebook curators, who remained anonymous, told the publication they were under orders to suppress conservative articles and news outlets in the trending feature. Allegations included blacklisting of some media outlets and Facebook’s refusal to allow negative stories about itself to be displayed in the prominent trending area.
While Facebook adamantly denied the claims, damage was done nonetheless. Republicans’ perception of Facebook declined by 68% after the Gizmodo piece ran, Recode reported. Those perceptions, if left unchecked, could cause serious damage to Facebook’s reputation. After all, Zuckerberg himself has said the platform is meant for all ideas. As for conservatives, they represent a large and active segment of the site’s users.
You Might Also Enjoy: Upstart Snapchat’s Video Traffic Matches Facebook’s
“Donald Trump has more fans on Facebook than any other presidential candidate,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post about the controversy. “And Fox News drives more interactions on its Facebook page than any other news outlet in the world. It’s not even close.”
Zuckerberg’s statement and olive branch aside, some say Facebook won’t be able to resolve the issue until it admits what it has evolved to become. Despite its adamant claim it is a technology company, the move into news curation has made it a de facto media organization, whether it likes it or not, Slate’s Will Oremus contends. When Facebook created a team of curators to pluck top news stories, summarize them and link to the news sites that covered them in more depth, it dove into journalism without a full understanding of the complexities, ethics and responsibilities that might entail, Oremus wrote.
For its part, Facebook insists the trending feature is meant to show topics that are popular on Facebook. The topics selected are based on factors including engagement, timeliness and location. Once a topic is selected, Facebook said it’s approved by a person who then crafts the description and headline. In the past, Facebook said topics were picked automatically; humans only get to select the headline. Gizmodo’s piece, however, asserts that’s not entirely true and Oremus punched holes in the notion that algorithms could be unbiased since they’re built by humans.
The way Oremus sees it, Facebook has three options for remedying the damage to its reputation. It can embrace its entry into journalism by building a true curation team with a real editor in charge, take humans out of the trending mix altogether or get rid of the trending feature entirely.