This week’s allegations that Facebook has systemically suppressed conservative speech on its news feed has rankled many users who believed they were being showed an unbiased list of “trending stories.”
For some background, a report by trusted technology news source Gizmodo quoted several former Facebook employees whose job was to curate content and manage the highly-viewed and trusted “Trending” section featured on the social media platform. The New York Post reports:
One curator kept a list: Omitted stories, he said, included CPAC, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and, in a weirdly ironic twist, bias by the Internal Revenue Service against conservative groups. Some curators reportedly considered conservative media outlets insufficiently credible, including their news only after more left-leaning or centrist publications also picked up the story.”]
The Post continues:
Such allegations are especially disturbing given Facebook’s outsized role in news distribution. With 1.65 billion active monthly users as of May 1, its audience is enormous. A recent Pew study, looking at news consumption on smartphones, discovered that Facebook sends more readers to news sites than any other social-media platform.”]
Facebook denies the allegations. The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, meanwhile, announced today that it is launching an investigation into the matter.
Let’s note up front that like a private university, Facebook, as a private company, has the right to suppress speech it doesn’t like. In fact, many would argue that doing so simply makes it more like most other media outlets, which usually have an explicit editorial bias.
Nevertheless, the portrayal of its trending news section as simply the hot stories of the day would seem a little disingenuous if the allegations are true. After all, Mark Zuckerberg and Sherl Sandberg continually tell investors that they are in the business of “making the world a more transparent and open place.”
In the video below, Towson University Professor Howard Baetjer explains the importance of engaging with viewpoints we disagree with:
None of us has all the answers. All of us are wrong about some things, and the only way we’ll learn what those things are is to listen to others and consider what they have to say.”]
That’s a viewpoint we can all “like.”