Former Facebook Employees Unmask 'Trending News' Blacklist of Conservative Media

A man walks in front of the Facebook logo at the new Facebook Innovation Hub during a preview media tour in Berlin, Germany, February 24, 2016. | (Photo: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch)

Contracted curators who operate Facebook's influential "trending news" section say they regularly censor some conservative news organizations from being included in the section.

Facebook launched its trending news section in 2014, allowing its millions of Facebook users to easily scroll through some of the day's hottest news stories by simply looking at the upper left-hand corner of their Facebook feed.

As over 600 million people see a news story on Facebook every week, the trending news section has become one of the most prominent vehicles for news consumption today.

Since the launch of the section, questions have arisen as to how it is determined what topics and websites are worthy of being included in the section.

A former Facebook curators who spoke with the tech blog Gizmodo on the condition of anonymity explained that the trending news section is run by a conference room full of hard working contractors who claim they are being treated as second-class Facebook employees and often feel "degraded."

In the interviews, the former curators detailed their responsibilities in running the section.

The former curators, many of whom have left Facebook or advanced to better jobs, explained that each day they would arrive at work and sort through a list of trending topics that have been pre-ranked by a Facebook algorithm from most popular to least popular.

The news curation team writes headlines for each of topic and write a three-sentence summary of the story.

In determining which news source to link to, the curator chooses the "most substantive post" that best summarizes the topic, which usually comes from a news site.

In order to maintain the appearance of objectivity, the former curators said they were instructed to compose neutral headlines with "alien-esque, passive language."

Although Facebook might want users to believe that it's trending news section acts as an unbiased news source, at least one person who spoke with Gizmodo admitted that some websites, including prominent conservative news websites, were regularly avoided.

Additionally, the curators were told to "select from a list of preferred media outlets" such as The New York Times, Time and Variety.

"They would regularly avoid sites like World Star Hip Hop, The Blaze, and Breitbart, but were never explicitly told to suppress those outlets," the article explains. "They were also discouraged from mentioning Twitter by name in headlines and summaries, and instead asked to refer to social media in a broader context."

The article explains that Facebook tries to keep its contracted curators from disclosing details about their work for Facebook in order to "keep the magic about how trending topics work a secret."

"One reason Facebook might want to keep the trending news operation faceless is that it wants to foster the illusion of a bias-free news ranking process — a network that sorts and selects news stories like an entirely apolitical machine," Gizmodo technology editor Michael Nunez opined.

Although Facebook wants to maintain a facade of objectivity, The Federalist, a conservative opinion site, asserted in an unsigned op-ed that Facebook's protocol for trending topics is "egregious."

"Facebook's trending topic blacklist protocol is especially egregious, because it gives its news curators multiple different ways of preventing conservative news or conservative news outlets from ever seeing the light of day," the editorial stated.

"Want to block coverage of the blockbuster Planned Parenthood videos that showed how the abortion provider went out of its way to harvest and traffic organs ripped from healthy, unborn babies, but without explicitly blocking that particular topic?" The editorial asks. "Easy: just pre-emptively exclude organizations that covered the story from your list of preferred news providers."

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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