Facebook denies claims they manipulate trending topics

Gizmodo has an article where anonymous ex facebook workers claim that they manipulated trending topics. Inserting topics to trend, such as black lives matter, and removing topics from trending, such as conservative news stories that were naturally trending.

Today Tom Stocky posted this to Facebook, he is head of the team responsible for trending topics, denying the allegations wholesale.

My team is responsible for Trending Topics, and I want to address today’s reports alleging that Facebook contractors manipulated Trending Topics to suppress stories of interest to conservatives. We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true.
Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum. There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality. These guidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives. Nor do they permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another. These guidelines do not prohibit any news outlet from appearing in Trending Topics.

Before you read further, let me remind you that Facebook is also the place that encouraged brands to work on getting audiences on their pages, then limited the page's natural reach, unless you paid them to boost the posts. They also engaged in mood manipulation, in order to test the effects on the users.

Trending Topics is designed to showcase the current conversation happening on Facebook. Popular topics are first surfaced by an algorithm, then audited by review team members to confirm that the topics are in fact trending news in the real world and not, for example, similar-sounding topics or misnomers.
We are proud that, in 2015, the US election was the most talked-about subject on Facebook, and we want to encourage that robust political discussion from all sides. We have in place strict guidelines for our trending topic reviewers as they audit topics surfaced algorithmically: reviewers are required to accept topics that reflect real world events, and are instructed to disregard junk or duplicate topics, hoaxes, or subjects with insufficient sources. Facebook does not allow or advise our reviewers to systematically discriminate against sources of any ideological origin and we've designed our tools to make that technically not feasible. At the same time, our reviewers' actions are logged and reviewed, and violating our guidelines is a fireable offense.
There have been other anonymous allegations -- for instance that we artificially forced ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ to trend. We looked into that charge and found that it is untrue. We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so. Our guidelines do permit reviewers to take steps to make topics more coherent, such as combining related topics into a single event (such as ‪#‎starwars‬ and ‪#‎maythefourthbewithyou‬), to deliver a more integrated experience.
Our review guidelines for Trending Topics are under constant review, and we will continue to look for improvements. We will also keep looking into any questions about Trending Topics to ensure that people are matched with the stories that are predicted to be the most interesting to them, and to be sure that our methods are as neutral and effective as possible.

The question whether these allegations are true or not is essentially moot, as we all know that when you put all your eggs in one basket the basket owner controls the eggs. By going against the core thought of the internet's genius - a decentralized network - and willingly centralizing where you find your friends and your news and your games and your shopping, you've become a lamb going willingly to the slaughter. The fact is, Facebook can control the news source. If they're doing it or not right now is just academic.

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Facebook's picture

Facebook has investigated Facebook and found Facebook to be innocent.

Dabitch's picture


Lets not forget that Zuckerberg had to ask staff to stop crossing out "#Blacklivesmatter" and replacing it with "#ALLlivesmatter" at the office.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is scolding employees for what he calls "several recent instances" of people crossing out "black lives matter" on signature walls at the company's headquarters and writing "all lives matter" instead.

But sure, he would never order the suppression of a trend. Clearly.

Having said that there have been many stories from anonymous ex-employees that never seem to go anywhere, and it's difficult to know which ones aren't hoaxes at this point.

Robbie's picture

Given the choice between Gizmodo and Facebook, it's hard to decide which to believe.

(And my Captcha is "no way"! Ha!)

Ajt's picture

You might want to take note of the posting from Comedian and Political Conservative Stephen Crowder today, who is apparently initiating some legal action against Facebook. It would seem that he was one of those paying for their "professional services" in order to boost posts. Instead they took his money and essentially blacklisted him for his conservative views. I'm thinking that might have some impact on Facebooks ability to sell its services.

Dabitch's picture

Stephen Crowder is not the only one who feels that his boosted posts haven't actually been boosted, when there's any legal development in that story (or the others) we will be all over it.

NoBo's picture

I agree with the main thrust of this article, but I'm confused as to the meaning of the "it's just academic" statement at the end.

Dabitch's picture

I've been a little tired lately, so it might be that a Swedish idiom snuck into my English writing. It means that it's all theoretical.