Facebook says the company has found "no evidence" to back up allegations that Facebook workers or contractors suppressed stories of interest to conservatives in its "Trending" section.
The allegations came from an anonymous former Facebook worker, who told the tech news site Gizmodo that a small team of "news curators" could decide whether to blacklist topics that Facebook's algorithm identified as "Trending." "I'd come on shift and I'd discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn't be trending because either the curator didn't recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz," the source, described as a political conservative, told Gizmodo.
In response, Facebook's vice president of search, Tom Stocky, said the company takes the allegations "extremely seriously." But in a Facebook post on the issue, he states: "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."
In another statement released Tuesday, a company spokesperson said: "We are continuing to investigate whether any violations took place. As we investigate, we will also keep reviewing our operational practices around Trending Topics -- and if we find they are inadequate, we will take immediate steps to fix them."
Stocky explained in more detail how Facebook's "Trending Topics" feature works:
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. ...
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.
Gizmodo technology editor Michael Nunez wrote there's "no evidence that Facebook management mandated or was even aware of any political bias at work," but he suggested that the curators -- mostly young people educated at Ivy League or other East Coast colleges -- shared a more liberal worldview.
"I think that there's a selection bias," Nunez said on "CBS This Morning" Tuesday. "I don't think it's 'rogue employees,' I'd call it an institutional failure."
"The fact is, they've set up a system that allows for human bias to enter, to impact what people are able to see in their feeds," Nunez said.
Stocky also denied Gizmodo's allegation that Facebook artificially forced the Black Lives Matter movement to trend -- calling it "untrue." "We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so," he wrote.
Read his full statement below: