Earlier this month, Gizmodo ran a story in which a small group of former Facebook employees said they “routinely” kept news from leading conservative writers and news outlets from appearing in the website’s high-profile Trending Topics news feed.
As Western Journal extensively reported, the reaction was swift.
Once the story broke, conservative blogger Steven Crowder filed court proceedings leading to a lawsuit. Conservative news media, including Western Journal, also ran multiple stories highlighting the former Facebook employees’ claims.
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Last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called a meeting with a number of conservatives affected by the allegations and promised to get to the bottom of the matter by conducting a thorough investigation.
In a statement by the company, Facebook says it has concluded its internal investigation. “We spoke with current reviewers and their supervisors, as well as a cross-section of former reviewers; spoke with our contractor; reviewed our guidelines, training, and practices; examined the effectiveness of our oversight; and analyzed data on the implementation of our guidelines by reviewers. We also talked to leading conservatives, to gain valuable feedback and insights,” the statement reads.
The statement continued by denying culpability and any system-wide bias in Facebook’s news stories, “Our investigation has revealed no evidence of systematic political bias in the selection or prominence of stories included in the Trending Topics feature.”
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Implying the company is fair to both liberal and conservative ideas, Facebook concluded, “Our data analysis indicated that conservative and liberal topics are approved as trending topics at virtually identical rates.”
The company also suggested the claims from anonymous former employees were invalidated as a result of their investigation. “We were also unable to substantiate any of the specific allegations of politically-motivated suppression of particular subjects or sources,” the statement reads. “In fact, we confirmed that most of the subjects mentioned in media reports were included as trending topics on multiple occasions.”
Facebook also acknowledged that rogue employees may have unintentionally discriminated against conservative stories or even acted with malice in “isolated improper actions or unintentional bias.”
As a result, the company’s statement suggests it has taken steps to ensure it would not happen again by employing “updated terminology in our guidelines to make them more clear,” and requiring “refresher training for all reviewers that emphasized that content decisions may not be made on the basis of politics or ideology,” and putting into place “additional controls and oversight around the review team, including robust escalation procedures.”
Facebook denies political bias but changes news algorithm. Wonder how this will affect our feeds https://t.co/JiGSl5Ml4Y
— Velvet PR (@velvet_pr) May 24, 2016
The company said it will also no longer rely on external websites to identify trending stories, has removed the ability of its team to assign an “importance level” to trending topics, and has made changes to its own “help center” to further explain trending topics to its employees.
The company said it sent Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune a letter explaining the company’s steps taken to “restore any loss of trust in the Trending Topics feature” and “ensure that Facebook remains a platform that is open and welcoming to all groups and individuals.”
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It’s unclear if all of the steps Facebook has taken will be enough for Crowder to drop his planned lawsuit against the company. Equally unclear is whether or not it will be enough to prevent what it calls “unintentional bias” from taking place again in the future.
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