Conservatives to meet Zuckerberg over bias claim

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg is meeting with prominent conservatives in the media, to address allegations of political bias at the popular social networking site.
The entrance sign to Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California, where the meeting will be held. A report in Gizmodo last week alleged that stories in Facebook's trending news lean towards the left.
The entrance sign to Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California, where the meeting will be held. A report in Gizmodo last week alleged that stories in Facebook's trending news lean towards the left.PHOTO: REUTERS

They will discuss how Facebook's 'trending news' can be more balanced

SAN FRANCISCO • United States conservatives were slated to meet Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg to voice their concerns about potential liberal bias.

The social network, which has 1.65 billion users worldwide, is responding to an anonymously sourced report in Gizmodo last week alleging that its team of human editors leaned towards liberal sources in selecting stories for the trending news topics feature.

Legally, Mr Zuckerberg owes the conservatives nothing, despite an inquiry from a Republican senator about Facebook's methods. The company is within its rights to order trending topics however it wants, according to First Amendment lawyers.

But as a CEO, Mr Zuckerberg has other priorities to consider. He needs to ensure that people feel like they are using a service with no bias in what it delivers - lest Facebook alienates those who fear their views are in jeopardy.

Facebook also needs to maintain its influence with these right-leaning users so it can make money from that audience, in the form of political advertising.

Mr Zuckerberg, who has said Facebook has so far found no evidence of a political slant in its news rankings, hopes to have a "direct conversation about what Facebook stands for and how we can be sure our platform stays as open as possible", according to a May 12 post by the 32-year-old CEO.

Among the dozen planned attendees of the meeting on Wednesday (Thursday, Singapore time) are talk-show host Glenn Beck, conservative think-tank leader Arthur Brooks and political commentator S.E. Cupp.

So far the participants are not outlining specific concessions they want from Facebook.

The first step is understanding how the product works, with its mix of input from human editors and algorithmic rankings.

After the Gizmodo report, Facebook released internal documents that showed the process behind its trending topics section was more human than advertised. Conservatives "want to learn more about the process and encourage them as a company to become more politically balanced", according to Mr Barry Bennett, a Donald Trump adviser who is also attending the meeting at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

For Facebook, the outcome could affect its election-year advertisement business.

Political campaigns' spending on digital ads is forecast to soar to US$1 billion (S$1.37 billion), compared with about US$159 million in 2012, according to Borrell Associates, which follows media trends. About half may go to social media.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2016, with the headline 'Conservatives to meet Zuckerberg over bias claim'. Print Edition | Subscribe