Facebook Trending Topics Will Undergo Changes Following Allegations of Political Bias

Some have alleged there is political bias in the feature.

May 24, 2016, 10:26 AM

— -- Facebook is making several changes to its trending topics feature following an investigation stemming from anonymous allegations of political bias, the social network's general counsel announced in a newsroom post on Monday.

Facebook launched an investigation earlier this month after tech website Gizmodo cited an anonymous source who said the social network's "news curators" were instructed to artificially "inject" selected stories into Facebook's "Trending Topics" list.

Desktop users can see trending topics in the upper right side of their Facebook newsfeed. On the app, trending topics are visible after a user taps the search bar.

Eliminating Reliance on News Outlets

Colin Stretch, Facebook's general counsel, outlined in a newsroom post several changes the social network plans to implement, including no longer relying on a select list of news outlets and websites as a way to automatically nominate topics for the trending feature.

As a result, a "Media 1K" list of feeds, which were used with an algorithm to surface potential trending topics, will be eliminated, along with the ability to add an "importance level" to a topic based on its prominence in a top-ten list of media sources, according to Stretch.

Training and Transparency

Facebook is also planning refresher training for all reviewers and pledged to add more information in its help center about how the Trending Topics feature is populated.

"These improvements and safeguards are designed not only to ensure that Facebook remains a platform that is open and welcoming to all groups and individuals, but also to restore any loss of trust in the Trending Topics feature," Stretch said.

Facebook's Findings From the Investigation

Despite the changes to Trending Topics, Facebook's investigation found there was "no evidence of systematic political bias in the selection or prominence of stories included in the Trending Topics feature," Stretch said. Facebook's investigation was also unable to substantiate specific allegations of "politically-motivated suppression of particular subjects or sources," he added.

However, the investigation was not able to discount the possibility of an individual straying from the policies or the potential for "unintentional bias in the implementation of our guidelines or policies," Stretch noted.

Along with the investigation, CEO Mark Zuckerberg welcomed leading conservatives to Facebook's campus last week for a discussion about ensuring the social network remains an open platform to all ideas.

"Our community's success depends on everyone feeling comfortable sharing anything they want," Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post last week. "It doesn't make sense for our mission or our business to suppress political content or prevent anyone from seeing what matters most to them."

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