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Former Facebook Employees Admit Manipulating 'Trending' Topics

MENLO PARK (CBS SF) – Former Facebook employees who worked on the influential "Trending" news section reportedly suppressed popular news stories from conservative sources and added stories to the section that were not popular at all.

Former so-called "news curators," independent contractors who work for the Menlo Park-based social network, talked about their experiences of curating items for the trending section to Gizmodo. The curators link to articles and write summaries for topics, which appear on the news feeds of Facebook's more than 1 billion users.

A former curator said topics of interest to conservatives, such as Mitt Romney, Rand Paul or the Conservative Political Action Conference were not being added to the Trending section, even if they were trending among users. Stories from conservative outlets, such as Breitbart or Newsmax, were excluded unless it was also covered by major mainstream outlets like CNN or the New York Times.

"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 curator told the site.

Curators also said management asked them to add topics to the Trending page that were deemed important, even if they weren't trending at the time. Stories that were added to the section included the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, the ongoing civil war in Syria and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

"People stopped caring about Syria," another former curator said. "[And] if it wasn't trending on Facebook, it would make Facebook look bad."

Facebook and other social networks have become a major source for news. According to Pew Research, 63 percent of Facebook users in the U.S. said they got news through the social network in 2015, up from 47 percent in 2013.

The social network has also taken the step of hosting news stories on Facebook itself, through "Instant Articles," with many news organizations taking part.

Facebook has not commented on the Gizmodo story.

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