Facebook Manipulates News Stories

A former Facebook employee has recently come out and said that Facebook routinely suppresses news stories. For many people who live on social media, the Facebook news ticker often becomes their sole source of news, whether it’s breaking or just trending. When a social media network has that much control over the news that it promotes, users give Facebook an unprecedented amount of control over how they interpret what is going on in the world. The former employee states that Facebook frequently prevented stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the news ticker despite being organically trending among their users.

Former Facebook “news curators” were told to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending news ticker even if they weren’t actually trending and were also told that any news about Facebook itself were strictly off limits. The trending news team at Facebook is a small group of young journalists, usually ivy league educated, that have access to Facebook’s algorithm that told them what stories are most popular. But, their job is to go through the popular stories and pick and choose what to showcase in the trending news module. That’s right, what you see at the trending news module might not even be what’s actually trending, just what they want you to read. “Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,” said the former curator. The former curator was actually politically conservative and was surprised when he saw what was posted to the module. “I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz.”

Another former curator agreed that the system is flawed and not objective at all. “It was absolutely bias. We were doing it subjectively. It just depends on who the curator is and what time of day it is,” said the former curator. “Every once in awhile a Red State or conservative news source would have a story. But we would have to go and find the same story from a more neutral outlet that wasn’t as biased.” Usually, conservative stories were only featured in the trending news only if main stream news outlets like BBC news or CNN also covered it.

Other curators have come forward to talk about what they called “injecting” a story. If a manager saw a story they thought was important wasn’t getting enough media attention they would instruct the curators to use a tool that forced the story to appear in front of users instead of being organically shared. Many times, the stories they “injected” became the number one trending story. “We were told that if we saw something, a news story that was on the front page of these ten sites, like CNN, the New York Times, and BBC, then we could inject the topic,” said one former curator. “If it looked like it had enough news sites covering the story, we could inject it—even if it wasn’t naturally trending.” Another curator cited that disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris were two instances where news stories were forcibly injected. “We would get yelled at if it was all over Twitter and not on Facebook,” one former curator said. Which may mean the injection tool was created to help compete against Twitter for real time news stories.

Other instances were stories about Syria and the “Black Lives Matter” movement. They stopped trending but Facebook got a lot of pressure from people who insisted that those stories still mattered. So regardless of whether it was trending or not, those stories were pushed to the top of the trending news module. In many instances, “It wasn’t trending news at all,” said the former curator who logged conservative news omissions. “It was an opinion.” This opens a very polarizing discussion on how Facebook should use it’s influence. They have the ability to affect billions of people’s opinions and with certain things like presidential elections, the question of how Facebook should approach these topics if at all. One thing is clear, Facebook operates much like a traditional news outlet with biases of their own and nobody should take the word of Facebook or anyone else when they tell you what is or what isn’t important.