The Federalist Staff, The Federalist
If you’ve ever used Facebook, you’ve noticed the list of trending topics on the vertical navbar along the right side of the page. You may have even clicked one or two of them to see what’s happening or why the topic is trending. What you probably didn’t know is that Facebook apparently blacklists certain topics from showing up, or certain news outlets from having their coverage seen by Facebook’s audience.
Gizmodo, a tech blog, talked to the people behind Facebook’s news aggregation service–“news curators” in Facebookspeak–and it turns out that Facebook’s news coverage isn’t based on fancy, unbiased algorithms at all. Nope. Facebook’s news service is instead run by people who want to make sure none of that icky right-wing coverage finds its way in front of people’s eyeballs:
They were also told to select articles from a list of preferred media outlets that included sites like the New York Times, Time, Variety, and other traditional outlets. They would regularly avoid sites like World Star Hip Hop, The Blaze, and Breitbart, but were never explicitly told to suppress those outlets. 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.
News curators also have the power to “deactivate” (or blacklist) a trending topic—a power that those we spoke to exercised on a daily basis. A topic was often blacklisted if it didn’t have at least three traditional news sources covering it, but otherwise the protocol was murky—meaning a curator could ostensibly blacklist a topic without a particularly good reason for doing so.
You read that correctly: Facebook’s news curators regularly went out of their way to make sure coverage from conservative sites like The Blaze rarely found its way into Facebook’s coverage of trending news topics.
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. According to former news curators for the tech giant who talked to Gizmodo, the company first determines who is and isn’t a “preferred” news site. Based on that determination, the curators then have the power to blacklist any trending topic that isn’t sufficiently covered by the “preferred” sites.
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? Easy: just pre-emptively exclude organizations that covered the story from your list of preferred news providers. Or, if that’s too much work, just manually manipulate the trending topic so it tells the exact opposite story from the one that is actually trending. And then, if anybody gets wise to the racket, just tell them the choice was totally up to you and not dictated from above, as if that somehow makes deliberate blacklisting or censorship perfectly acceptable.
We don’t have to just imagine that scenario unfolding, though. Why? Because it actually happened.