Facebook revamps Trending Topics

Procedures for section tweaked to avoid political or ideological bias

SAN FRANCISCO • Facebook says that it has changed some of the procedures for its Trending Topics section after a news report alleging it suppressed conservative news prompted a United States Congress demand for more transparency.

The company said an internal probe showed no evidence of political bias in the selection of news stories for Trending Topics, a feature that is separate from the main "news feed", where most Facebook users get their news.

But the world's largest social network said in a blog post on Monday that it was introducing several changes, including elimination of a top 10 list of approved websites, more training and clearer guidelines to help its team of human editors avoid ideological or political bias, and more robust review procedures.

Facebook said it would no longer refer to the list of national news sources - like Fox News, The New York Times and BuzzFeed News - to "boost" topics appearing on Trending Topics.

Earlier this month, a former Facebook contractor accused the company's editors of deliberately suppressing conservative news.

The world's largest social network said in a blog post on Monday that it was introducing several changes, including elimination of a top 10 list of approved websites, more training and clearer guidelines to help human editors avoid ideological or political bias, and more robust review procedures.

The report led South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune to demand that the company explain how it selects news articles for its Trending Topics list.

Two days after Mr Thune's request, Facebook published a blog post detailing how Trending Topics works, even though it rarely discloses such practices.

Facebook said its investigation showed that conservative and liberal topics were approved as trending topics at nearly identical rates. It said it was unable to substantiate any allegations of politically motivated suppression of particular subjects or sources.

But it did not rule out human error in selecting topics.

"Our investigation could not fully exclude the possibility of isolated improper actions or unintentional bias in the implementation of our guidelines or policies," Mr Colin Stretch, Facebook's general counsel, wrote in a company blog post.

Last week, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg met more than a dozen conservative politicians and media personalities to discuss issues of trust in the social network.

Facebook was relying on a preponderance of liberal and leftist "news" organisations, said Mr Brent Bozell, president of Media Research Centre and a participant in the meeting with Mr Zuckerberg.

"By not relying on any specific news outlets, Facebook returns to its neutral roots."

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2016, with the headline 'Facebook revamps Trending Topics'. Print Edition | Subscribe