Facebook changes algorithms but denies allegations of anti-conservative bias

The following article appeared in the Telegraph on 25 May, 2016

Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook on Monday said it was making changes aimed at keeping political bias out of its “trending” stories list even though an internal investigation revealed no evidence it was happening.

“Our investigation has revealed no evidence of systematic political bias in the selection or prominence of stories included in the Trending Topics feature,” Colin Stretch, Facebook general counsel, said in a letter responding to a query from John Thune, Republican US Senator, who chairs the commerce committee.

“In fact, our analysis indicated that the rates of approval of conservative and liberal topics are virtually identical in Trending Topics.”

Facebook was unable to substantiate any specific accusations of bias made in media reports, which relied on anonymous sources, Mr Stretch said in the letter, a copy of which was made available by the leading social network.

“At the same time, as you would expect with an inquiry of this nature, our investigation could not exclude the possibility of isolated improper actions or unintentional bias in the implementation of our guidelines or policies,” said Mr Stretch.

“As part of our commitment to continually improve our products and to minimize risks where human judgment is involved, we are making a number of changes.”

Facebook updated terminology in its guidelines to be clearer and gave reviewers refresher training that emphasised content decisions may not be based on politics or ideology, the letter said.

The review team will be subject to more oversight and controls, and Facebook will no longer rely on lists of external websites and news outlets to assess the importance of topics in stories.

Headlines from an exclusive handful of media outlets like the New York Times will no longer be used to define newsworthiness of trends.

The company has also renamed two key tools to make it clear what they actually do: the “blacklist” tool which is used to remove certain topics from the Trending list will be called “revisit”.

The “injection” feature that allows manual insert or edit headlines will now be branded “topic correction.”

“We want people to be confident that our community welcomes all viewpoints,” Stretch said in the letter.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder, said last week that conservatives were an important part of the social network after a meeting aimed at defusing concerns it was politically biased.

“We’ve built Facebook to be a platform for all ideas,” he said on his Facebook page after a meeting at the company’s California headquarters to discuss the allegations about anti-conservative bias.

“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.”

Mr Zuckerberg called the meeting after technology news outlet Gizmodo a week earlier reported allegations that Facebook was deliberately omitting articles with conservative viewpoints from the sidebar that lists popular stories.

Allegedly suppressed topics relate to known conservative figures such as American news aggregator the Drudge Report, politicians Mitt Romney and Rand Paul.