Facebook Dumps News Outlets as 'Trending Topics' Gauge

After allegations the social network was suppressing conservative news
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 24, 2016 7:36 AM CDT
In this April 12, 2016, file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the keynote address at the F8 Facebook Developer Conference in San Francisco.   (Eric Risberg)

(Newser) – Facebook is dropping its reliance on news outlets to help determine what gets posted as a "trending topic," a move adopted after backlash over a report saying it suppressed conservative views, the AP reports. Facebook's general counsel outlined the change in a 12-page letter Monday to Republican Sen. John Thune, chair of the commerce committee, which oversees the Internet and consumer protections. The move comes less than a week after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with Glenn Beck and more than a dozen other conservative commentators to address concerns stemming from a report in the tech blog Gizmodo. The Gizmodo report, which relied on a single anonymous former Facebook worker with self-described conservative leanings, claimed that Facebook downplays conservative news subjects on its trending feature. Trending topics are seen on the right side of the screen on computers, or after tapping on the search bar in a mobile app.

Facebook will stop looking to news outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and Drudge Report to automatically nominate topics as trending; it also automatically nominates topics based on a spike in user posts about a subject. As part of its review, Facebook found that its trending topics team could temporarily suppress topics if news outlets weren't reporting on them enough. The review also said it found no evidence of systemic political bias, though it couldn't discount that a lone wolf might be able to game its system. Thune said in a statement he found Facebook's response "encouraging," though it revealed that its trending topics feature "relied on human judgment, and not just an automated process, more than previously acknowledged." The president of the conservative Media Research Center applauded the change. "Facebook was relying on a preponderance of liberal and leftist 'news' organs. By not relying on any specific news outlets, Facebook returns to its neutral roots," he said. (Read more Facebook stories.)

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