Facebook launched its trending news section in January 2014, displaying a list of topics in the upper righthand corner of every Facebook user’s news feed. Many in the news industry expressed concern about what could happen to freedom of expression and the dissemination of information if Facebook decided to take an active hand in shaping what news reaches its users. Now, according to several former Facebook news curators who spoke to Gizmodo, that may be exactly what the social media giant is doing.
Though Facebook won’t say how the trending news section works, its prominent placement guarantees many, many views for the stories that appear in it. It also may be the only source of news users get on Facebook. That’s why it’s so scary to read quotes like this:
“We choose what’s trending,” said one former news curator. “There was no real standard for measuring what qualified as news and what didn’t. It was up to the news curator to decide.”
According to the former curators, they write headlines and summaries for each story, and choose which media outlet to link to from it. They said they were told to avoid sites like The Blaze and Breitbart (two conservative publications) and World Star Hip Hop. They also had the power to “deactivate” trending topics, and the rules about this remained vague; in other words, the curators could personally decide whether to censor a news story or not. Many of these employees were also asked not to reveal that they worked at Facebook. As Gizmodo writes, this could be to preserve the mystery of how the site’s trending news works — and to maintain the illusion that it’s a completely neutral and unbiased process.
This bombshell report is disheartening to read, and it seems to confirm many people’s fears about the site’s relationship with sharing information. Readers: are you surprised by the report from these former Facebook employees?