Under fire for allegedly suppressing conservative viewpoints in its Trending topics section, Facebook this week announced that it will require its employees to undergo training to check their political biases.
“We think a lot about diversity at Facebook,” COO Sheryl Sandberg said Wednesday at an event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, according to The Hill. “And we have a managing-bias class that all of our leaders and a lot of our employees have taken that I was part of helping to create, and we’ve focused on racial bias, age bias, gender bias, national bias and we’re going to add in a scenario now on political bias.”
A company spokesperson told The Hill that the training in question is mandatory for all employees.
Following allegations last month that it regularly suppresses coverage of politically conservative news topics, Facebook said it will rely only on algorithms that scan its users’ posts for an unusually high number of mentions of a particular topic. Previously, its trending topics reviewers would rely partially on RSS feeds from online media outlets, including The New York Times, BBC News, the Drudge Report, and the Huffington Post.
Despite these changes and its new training policies, Facebook faces an inherent challenge in addressing political bias, since the tech industry in which it operates is overwhelmingly politically liberal. Sandberg herself, as well as Alphabet CEO Eric Schmidt, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky and many other tech heavyweights endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president this week.
Among the few tech leaders endorsing Clinton’s Republican opponent, Donald Trump, is Peter Thiel, who recently was criticized for his role in bankrolling Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Media. He will serve as a Trump delegate.
Besides politics, Facebook and other tech companies also face race and gender problems. The industry is overwhelmingly white and male, and multiple companies have recently grappled with how best to address that. Google in 2014 formally acknowledged its shortcomings by publishing employee gender and ethnicity stats, which showed that its workforce consisted of 70 percent men and 30 percent women, but only 5 percent black or Hispanic.
Last year, Intel pledged to invest $300 million to improve the diversity of the company’s workforce. The money will go toward attracting more women and minorities for engineering and computer science positions. Earlier this year, it reported progress on that goal, but work remains. Apple has a similar effort.
Twitter, meanwhile, was criticized last December when it appointed a white man to be its head of diversity.