As you have most likely heard, Facebook is biased. Or rather, people who work at Facebook are biased, and those biases spill over to the “trending stories” section. You know the section: the one on the right-hand side of your newsfeed that you scroll through now and again. Anonymous sources at Gizmodo claimed Facebook intentionally ignored news from hyper-conservative sites like Breitbart in favor of more mainstream publications. But the problem isn’t “suppression” or even partisan bias. It’s simply this: Facebook is calling something “trending” when it’s actually curated. If you stop calling them “trending stories” — and Facebook should — this issue takes care of itself.
The fallout has been huge, as it definitely plays into a narrative that’s popular in some conservative circles in which the mainstream media suppresses stores from the right in order to further the liberal agenda and elevate President Barack Obama into Supreme Ruler above the Constitution. But some of the finer points of the story have been lost. According to the Gizmodo interviews, Facebook wasn’t suppressing conservative news so much as it was ignoring news from hyper-conservative outlets unless they were confirmed by more credible sources. As one source put it: “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.”
Notably, Gizmodo was “unable to determine” whether or not Facebook had the same vetting process for hyper-liberal websites like Daily Kos and Salon. That seems like key information.
In any case, the Gizmodo interviews revealed that hyper-partisan conservative news wasn’t the only news that got bumped. Facebook news curators would intentionally push stories they thought deserved attention. Attacks on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris and #BlackLivesMatters news got extra attention even if they weren’t organically trending. Via one of the individuals quoted in the report:
“Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter,” the individual said. “They realized it was a problem, and they boosted it in the ordering. They gave it preference over other topics. When we injected it, everyone started saying, ‘Yeah, now I’m seeing it as number one’.”
This “boosting” reveals two things. First, Facebook is showing some discipline with what they choose to promote. This is defensible — maybe even admirable. Does anyone really think a #BlackLivesMatter story of police brutality should be bumped down in favor of an article from Breitbart? Just last week, Breitbart called Bill Kristol a “renegade Jew.”
Second, these stories aren’t necessarily “trending.” The algorithms in play have a human element that is probably necessary, but also negates the trending element. These stories are not necessarily “trending.” They reflect, on some level, the things news curators at Facebook believes are important. That’s not suppression of free speech. It’s good curation. A good news organization — which Facebook has rather inadvertently become — should highlight stories of unique importance. It’s a sensical decision. It’s just not “trending.”
Now, to be fair, at least one source at Facebook also said several conservative news topics—former Navy Seal Chris Kelly and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, among them—were bumped, and did not specify whether or not those stories were ever picked up once they received coverage from more mainstream outlets. Such editorial decisions would reflect a bias that fits more in line with some of the more dramatic episodes of hang-wringing on the internet, and Mark Zuckerberg is right to take steps to build bridges. But again, this is only reflective of a human bias at play—not of active suppression.
To that end, Facebook can and should change the name of the trending stories. Call it “stories that might interest you”, “stories that interested us”, or even “today’s top news.” Anything to remove the organic feel of “trending” and confirm that Facebook is involved in the news it selects, and in making sure only important, independently verified stories are being represented.
Jason is the cofounder of the iconic non-profit Invisible Children which was founded to increase awareness of the horrendous activities of the LRA in Central Africa. Jason was also the director of the iconic Kony 2012 film that took the world by storm. In this two-part interview Jason and Branden talk about what it means to create a movement, what Jason experienced during his breakdown and subsequent recovery, and Jason’s experience in the world of theater.
Aharon Rabinowitz is the head of marketing for Red Giant based in New York City. During our conversation, we discussed the importance of work life balance, his start as a production intern at Sesame Street and why artist’s feel personally offended when you reject their work.
United gets their cheap on, fake news, and Trump hired who?
Welcome to Episode IV. This week, Dan spends some time with his favorite singer/songwriter, Matthew Perryman Jones. Matthew and Dan talk about panic attacks, growing up in Atlanta, the way music is informed by pain and suffering and the way music gives freedom.
If you have spent any time watching television in the last decade you have most likely heard one of Mattew’s songs on shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Pretty Little Liars, One Tree Hill and many others. His insightful writing and voice have drawn comparisons to Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley, and he is on the short list of songwriters who skillfully weave the deeply philosophical and the vivid utterly human without ever losing sight of either.
To get his new album Cold Answer, (which features the three songs from him you heard on this episode), visit MPJmusic.com.
Branden sits down with writer and speaker Tyler Huckabee days after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States to talk about empathy, justice, listening, and where we go from here.
Special Election Edition, President Trump to legalized weed and everything in between.
This week we reflect on the election and discuss our strategies for staying sane.
Luca and Ilenia are the founders of Illo, a studio based in Turin, Italy. During our conversation, we discussed their self-driving video bot named Algo, how Illo was formed and how they’ve crafted a unique office culture.
This week we discuss Beyonce’s night at the CMAs, last minute election plans and how SNL might save us all.
We appreciate everyone sticking with us through this long hiatus but are planning our return even as we speak, with a bunch of new goodies and an updated format. In the meantime, here’s a brief primer on Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange — just so you can go into the movie knowing what you’re getting yourself into.