Facebook denies political bias claim

PALO ALTO (California) • Facebook scrambled to respond to a new and startling line of attack early this week - accusations of political bias.

The outcry was set off by a report on Monday morning by Gizmodo website, which said that Facebook's team in charge of the site's "trending" list had intentionally suppressed articles from conservative news sources. The social network uses the trending feature to indicate the most popular news articles of the day to users.

Facebook denied the allegations after a backlash from both conservative and liberal critics erupted.

"It is beyond disturbing to learn that this power is being used to silence viewpoints and stories that don't fit someone else's agenda," read a statement from the Republican National Committee.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, hardly a conservative ally, weighed in on Twitter: "Aside from fuelling right-wing persecution, this is a key reminder of dangers of Silicon Valley controlling content."

Facebook, in response, said that it follows rigorous guidelines "to ensure consistency and neutrality" and that it works to be inclusive of all perspectives.

The back-and-forth highlights the extent to which Facebook has muscled its way into the United States' political conversation - and the risks that the company faces as it becomes a central force in news consumption and production.

Facebook has long described its trending feature - on desktop computers, "trending" displays on the right side of screens; on cellphones, it appears when users search - as largely automatic.

But two former employees who had worked on it and spoke on condition of anonymity said the trending feature is curated by a team of contract employees. They said they considered themselves members of a newsroom-like operation, where editorial discretion was not novel but was an integral part of the process.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2016, with the headline 'Facebook denies political bias claim'. Print Edition | Subscribe