Leaked Documents Prove Facebook ‘Injects’ and ‘Blacklists’ Stories From Trending
Leaked internal documents have substantiated at least one of the claims from this week’s bombshell Gizmodo story; Facebook curators regularly add topics into its “Trending” column that aren’t actually trending, and removes ones that are.
Two former Facebook employees claimed that curators have wide discretion about which stories appear in the trending topics, despite Facebook’s claims that its largely up to algorithms. Those same employees claimed this allowed bias into the system, and that the more liberal curators would ignore conservative stories and artificially boost stories like Black Lives Matter.
Documents obtained by The Guardian partially vindicate those claims. “A team of news editors working in shifts around the clock was instructed on how to ‘inject’ stories into the trending topics module, and how to ‘blacklist’ topics for removal for reasons including ‘doesn’t represent a real-world event’, left to the discretion of the editors,” Sam Thielman reports.
The documents also back up the former employees’ claims that stories were ignored unless “respectable” outlets decided to cover them. “You should mark a topic as ‘National Story’ importance if it is among the 1-3 top stories of the day,” they read. “We measure this by checking if it is leading at least 5 of the following 10 news websites: BBC News, CNN, Fox News, The Guardian, NBC News, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Yahoo News or Yahoo.”
Why the change from the old model? “The company backed away from a pure-algorithm approach in 2014 after criticism that it had not included enough coverage of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri prominently enough in users’ feeds,” Thielman reports.