There’s a big story making the rounds today and it concerns Facebook’s alleged manipulation of their “trending topics” section, which was itself shamelessly ripped-off from Twitter. But like most things they steal from the Twittersphere, they did it bigger and some would argue better. Well, unless you thought it was in anyway tied to the stories that were actually trended on Facebook, because in reality, it isn’t.
From Gawker’s Gizmodo, which was the site that broke this story…
Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential “trending” news section, according to a former journalist who worked on the project. This individual says that workers prevented stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the highly-influential section, even though they were organically trending among the site’s users.
Several former Facebook “news curators,” as they were known internally, also told Gizmodo that they were instructed to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all. The former curators, all of whom worked as contractors, also said they were directed not to include news about Facebook itself in the trending module.
In other words, Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing—but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.”…
The former curator was so troubled by the omissions that they kept a running log of them at the time; this individual provided the notes to Gizmodo. Among the deep-sixed or suppressed topics on the list: former IRS official Lois Lerner, who was accused by Republicans of inappropriately scrutinizing conservative groups; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; popular conservative news aggregator the Drudge Report; Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL who was murdered in 2013; and former Fox News contributor Steven Crowder. “I believe it had a chilling effect on conservative news,” the former curator said.
“Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter,” the individual 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’.” This particular injection is especially noteworthy because the #BlackLivesMatter movement originated on Facebook, and the ensuing media coverage of the movement often noted its powerful social media presence.
(In February, CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed his support for the movement in an internal memo chastising Facebook employees for defacing Black Lives Matter slogans on the company’s internal “signature wall.”)
Well, yea, there’s nothing wrong with this…so long as you admit it. But that’s not what we have here. Instead, Facebook has blatantly lied to its user base for years now. I didn’t think it was a 100% accurate reflection of what was trending on the service. Still, I hadn’t realized it was quite this fraudulent. Zuckerberg and his cronies propping up #BlackLivesMatter is one particularly galling bit of propaganda, especially given the rank hypocrisy of the movement. It doesn’t get much more pathetic than this, ladies and gentlemen.
Matt Drudge, of the famous Drudge Report was much less surprised than I was at this whole thing…
Fair point. We’ve seen this sort of thing out of Twitter, but they usually use methods other than these. Like, they might only let a certain topic trend for a short amount of time. They also like to ban the “auto-complete” when it comes to tags they don’t like (#GamerGate, etc.). Still, as far as I know, they don’t have a team like Facebook that tailors trends to this degree.
Oh, and before I go, one of my friends asked me why it was Gawker that posted this story. My answer was simple: money. They knew this would be a big one and that it would drive traffic to their site. Yes, they lean to the SJW side, of course. But Nick Denton likes getting paid above all else. Plus, they’re going to need all the spare change they can get if they end up having to pay out to The Hulkster.