Facebook has addressed an ongoing controversy of a so-called right-wing bias it has promoted in its Trending Topics feature. According to a former employee, the company’s staffers deliberately omitted conservative news outlets from the feature.
In response to the claims, the social media giant said that there is indeed a human factor that moderates the topics. But moderators are there to decide which story is more important and to ensure that hoax stories are left out.
The controversy started last week when critics said that the company has actively encouraged its moderators to filter out versions of trending stories from right-wing media. Moreover, Facebook employees reportedly promoted stories from progressive media venues such as the like Black Lives Matter.
Facebook has argued ever since that its algorithms were not altered in any way. But today it explained how exactly the Trending Topics sections works. The company also said that stories appear on the list regardless of the “ideological spectrum” if they are deemed popular and most important.
Facebook declined the allegations that it may favor a specific ideological or political viewpoint. It also said that it didn’t suppress specific political perspectives in any way. But the centerpiece of its statement is the part with how its algorithms work.
Behind the Scenes
The site uses an algorithm to comb the site for the most popular stories. The AI-based feature picks these topics and sends a report to the site’s team of moderators. Stories make it on that list if they collect a lot of comments and reposts.
The algorithm also looks on an impressive list of news outlets for breaking stories. The move is designed to list the most relevant breaking stories in the Trending Topics Bar even before Facebook users learn about them and start talking.
The topics and stories selected by the algorithm are forwarded to the site’s Trending team. The humans there check the stories to make sure that they are news material, rather than random people’s thoughts on a particular topic. Plus, the team makes sure that a particular story is reported by several news sites.
Additionally, team members decide how important a story really is and what topic it belongs to. From here, a second algorithm takes charge. This algorithm personalizes the Trending Topics feed for each user, depending on their interests. For this purpose, the computer looks for information about how important the news is for that person, where that person lives, and whether the user had read similar topics before.
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