Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday commented publicly for the first time on damaging allegations that Facebook has been suppressing stories from conservative news outlets for its Trending Topics section.
In a 309-word message posted online, the boss of the social network giant insisted Facebook “stands for giving everyone a voice.”
He said Trending Topics, which launched two years ago, is designed to “surface the most newsworthy and popular conversations on Facebook,” adding, “We have rigorous guidelines that do not permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or the suppression of political perspectives.”
Zuckerberg said his company took the accusations of wrongdoing outlined in a recent Gizmodo report “very seriously” and said it’s currently carrying out “a full investigation to ensure our teams upheld the integrity of this product.”
“No evidence that this report is true”
The CEO claimed to have uncovered “no evidence that this report is true. If we find anything against our principles, you have my commitment that we will take additional steps to address it.”
In an additional effort to take control of the situation and prevent the controversy from spiraling out of control, Zuckerberg said that in the coming weeks he’ll be inviting “leading conservatives and people from across the political spectrum” to discuss the issue. “I want to have a direct conversation about what Facebook stands for and how we can be sure our platform stays as open as possible,” he wrote.
The message from the Facebook boss came shortly after the company’s VP of global operations, Justin Osofsky, posted a statement explaining exactly how Trending Topics functions. He said the items that appear are surfaced by algorithms, not humans, though added, “This product also has a team of people who play an important role in making sure that what appears in Trending Topics is high-quality and useful.” The precise role of the team is the subject of renewed discussion following the publication of leaked documents by the Guardian on Thursday suggesting its members do indeed directly influence which news stories appear in Facebook’s trending section.
However, Osofsky is adamant that the team running the feature is “governed by a set of guidelines meant to ensure a high-quality product … Facebook does not allow or advise our reviewers to discriminate against sources of any political origin, period.”
The story hit the headlines on Monday when Gizmodo reported allegations made by a former reporter that used to work on Facebook’s trending news section. The ex-employee said that besides suppressing news from conservative media outlets, those working on the service were also told to artificially “inject” selected news reports, even if they weren’t particularly popular, or perhaps not even trending at all. The alleged management of Facebook’s news content and political bias would clearly go against the company’s claim that it shows only “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.”
Responding to the accusations of bias at Facebook, right-leaning news site The Federalist said this week it “shouldn’t come as any surprise,” adding, “The only thing that is surprising is why conservatives would trust organizations like Facebook to provide honest and unbiased accounts of what’s happening in the world.”
The story has also provoked a terse response from Republican Senator John Thune, chair of the Commerce Committee, who said “Any attempt by a neutral and inclusive social media platform to censor or manipulate political discussion is an abuse of trust and inconsistent with the values of an open internet.”