Facebook Needs to Filter Trending Topics to Maintain Integrity

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Should Facebook have a political agenda or filter the stories displayed in trending topics to reflect a specific ideology? No. I mean, if Zuckerberg wanted to be the left wing equivalent of Rupert Murdoch and just sell out the social network to act as a propaganda machine like Murdoch has done for conservatives with Fox News, that would be his prerogative. But, hopefully Facebook would clearly state that up front (unlike Fox News, which still pretends to be fair and unbiased).

On the contrary, Facebook vehemently claims to be a neutral, unbiased source of information, which is why it is responding so forcefully to claims that it intentionally prevents conservative stories from displaying in the Trending Topics. I don’t see it, personally. Right now on my Facebook page I have stories about Donald Trump, Jeff Bezos responding to something stupid Donald Trump said, and Greg Abbott chiming in with some sort of bigoted nonsense in response to the federal guidelines over transgender bathroom use in my Trending Topics. Clearly the conservative lunacy is not being filtered out very well.

The reality is that Facebook needs to do some manual filtering in order to protect the integrity of the Trending Topics from Internet trolls and tinfoil hat conspiracies.

Facebook is embroiled in controversy this week challenging its political neutrality. The social network espouses to be a level playing field for political debate, but Gizmodo reported earlier this week that anonymous former contractors claim Facebook stifles conservative topics from appearing in the “Trending” news section. Whether the allegations are legitimate or not, the issue is a challenge for Facebook and other sites that depend on algorithms to monitor trending topics.

An individual—referred to simply as a former journalist who worked on the project at Facebook—allegedly told Gizmodo that stories related to conservative politics and right wing topics were prevented from appearing in the Trending news section of the site even when those topics were trending organically among users. The article also asserts that Facebook news curators were instructed to inject stories into the Trending news section even though they weren’t legitimately trending at all.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a post on Facebook responding to these allegations. Zuckerberg stressed that he takes the accusation very seriously, and that Facebook is conducting a full investigation to determine the veracity of the reports. He also pointed out that there is so far no evidence to support the story.

Zuckerberg explains, “To serve our diverse community, we are committed to building a platform for all ideas. Trending Topics is designed to surface the most newsworthy and popular conversations on Facebook. We have rigorous guidelines that do not permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or the suppression of political perspectives.”

Robert Scoble commented on Zuckerberg’s post to say, “I wish it were true. I am tired of seeing tons of Trump all over my feed. But, this is a great response. Thank you! If anything I wish we did have better filters here.” That comment has received nearly 2,500 “Likes” so far.

That brings us to the balancing act Facebook has to struggle with. Facebook wants to be politically neutral and allow organically trending topics to be surfaced so that other members of the social media site can participate in the conversation. However, it also has to guard against propagating stories that are false or unsubstantiated, and against simple Internet trolling.

Read the full story on Forbes: Facebook Caught Between Common Sense And Censorship.

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About Author

I have a passion for technology and gadgets--with a focus on Microsoft and security--and a desire to help others understand how technology can affect or improve their lives. I also love spending time with my wife, 7 kids, 3 dogs, 5 cats, 3 rabbits, 2 ferrets, pot-bellied pig and sulcata tortoise, and I like to think I enjoy reading and golf even though I never find time for either. You can contact me directly at tony@xpective.net. For more from me, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

2 Comments

  1. I_know_a_thing_or_two on

    I find it curious that you dismiss the Fox News claim to be “fair and unbiased,” while using charged and biased terms like “bigoted nonsense” and “lunacy” to refer to the positions of those with whom you disagree.

    • I don’t. I use terms like “bigoted nonsense” and “lunacy” to refer to bigots spouting nonsense and lunatics. Positions I disagree with, I simply disagree with.

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