John Thune, a Republican senator from South Dakota, who is also chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, to respond to allegations that the social network suppressed conservative news.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee oversees media and internet issues, and in a letter on Tuesday, Thune asked Zuckerberg to personally respond to allegations that "'news curators' responsible for managing Facebook's 'Trending Topics' section frequently targeted stories on conservative political topics for exclusion."
"If Facebook presents its Trending Topics section as a result of a neutral, objective algorithm, but it is in fact subjective and filtered to support or suppress particular political viewpoints, Facebook's assertion that it maintains 'a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum' misleads the public," wrote Thune.
In a report by tech news outlet Gizmodo on Monday, a former Facebook news curator who identifies as politically conservative said Facebook workers routinely prevented stories about CPAC, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul and other conservatives from showing up as top news, even when they were trending organically among the social network's users.
"Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending," the former Facebook curator told Gizmodo. The individual who was among a handful of conservatives working on the project requested to remain anonymous for the report out of fear of reprisal from Facebook.
President of search at Facebook, Tom Stocky denied the claims in a statement posted on Facebook Tuesday.
"Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum. There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team 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," wrote Stocky.
"Trending Topics is designed to showcase the current conversation happening on Facebook. Popular topics are first surfaced by an algorithm, then audited by review team members to confirm that the topics are in fact trending news in the real world and not, for example, similar-sounding topics or misnomers," he continued.
"We are proud that, in 2015, the US election was the most talked-about subject on Facebook, and we want to encourage that robust political discussion from all sides. We have in place strict guidelines for our trending topic reviewers as they audit topics surfaced algorithmically: 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. At the same time, our reviewers' actions are logged and reviewed, and violating our guidelines is a fireable offense," Stocky added.
In a series of questions in the letter however, Thune questions when the guidelines for curators was first introduced and whether or not employees receive training as it relates to the guidelines.
Thune also requested that Zuckerberg respond to his query no later than May 24.
The complete letter is below.