Facebook makes changes to avoid political bias

Facebook on Monday (May 23) said it was making changes aimed at keeping political bias out of its "trending" stories list.
Facebook on Monday (May 23) said it was making changes aimed at keeping political bias out of its "trending" stories list.PHOTO: REUTERS

SAN FRANCISCO (REUTERS, AFP) -  Facebook Inc will no longer rely on a top-10 list of websites to help choose items for its Trending Topics section, even though an internal probe showed no evidence of political bias in the selection process, the company said on Monday (May 23).

The world’s largest social media network said in a blogpost that changes include clearer guidelines for human editors on the Trending Topics team, more training to emphasise avoiding ideological or political basis, and more robust review procedures.  

The internal investigation was prompted by a letter from Republican Senator John Thune earlier this month demanding that the company explain how it selects news articles for its “trending”list. (http://bit.ly/1Tvv3Nm)

A former Facebook contractor had accused the company’s editors of deliberately suppressing conservative news. The allegations were reported by technology news website Gizmodo, which did not identify the ex-contractor.  

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.  

In his letter, Thune called on Facebook to respond to criticism that it suppressed conservative news and sought answers by May 24 to several questions about its internal practices.

“Any attempt by a neutral and inclusive social media platform to censor or manipulate political discussion is an abuse of trust and inconsistent with the values of an open Internet,” Thune said.  

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg last week met with more than a dozen conservative politicians and media personalities to defuse concerns Facebook is politically biased.

He said conservatives are an important part of the social network. "We've built Facebook to be a platform for all ideas," Zuckerberg said on his Facebook page after the meeting.

"It doesn't make sense for our mission or our business to suppress political content or prevent anyone from seeing what matters most to them."

"Very productive meeting at @Facebook with Mark and team," CNN conservative commentator S.E. Cupp tweeted after attending the gathering.

"Strong commitments to address issues, as well as to work together on common goals."