Claims that Facebook suppressed conservative news spur letter from Senate panel

1143461 autosave v1 2 mark zuckerberg ceo at facebook
Recent claims that Facebook routinely suppresses conservative news has caught the eye of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee. The committee has sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, inquiring into how the Trending Topics section works.

If you didn’t catch the news, Gizmodo reported on May 9 that several former Facebook employees claim the social media giant has a list of preferred news outlets it picks articles from for its trending topics section, such as The New York Times, the BBC, and CNN.

In addition to citing poor working conditions for journalists contracted by the company to maintain this section, former employees said articles from right-wing sites like Breitbart, the Washington Examiner, and Newsmax were rejected, according to Gizmodo.

Facebook denied the accusations, and said Trending Topics shows popular topics and hashtags that are being talked about on Facebook.

“There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality,” the company said. “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.”

The accusations rippled across many media sites, and now the Commerce Committee has sent a letter to Zuckerberg to glean more information about the Trending Topics tool, according to Gizmodo. The committee oversees communication, among a host of other fields, and wants to know the company’s organization structure for the topics feature and the steps for determining those topics.

“Social networks such as Facebook are an increasingly important source of news for many Americans and people around the world,” Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., writes in the letter. “The ability to connect with others to discuss and debate the issues of the day that such services offer has created a powerful platform for civic engagement. Indeed, with over a billion daily active users on average, Facebook has enormous influence on users’ perceptions of current events, including political perspectives.”

Since Facebook claims it is a platform “for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum,” the committee says if the Trending Topics feature indeed suppressed conservative viewpoints, then Facebook misled the public.

The former workers also claimed Facebook had an “injection tool” to push important stories that weren’t organically being shared. Stories that were sitting on the front page of the New York Times, BBC News, and CNN, but weren’t popular on Facebook, were “injected” into the Trending Topics ticker. Sometimes, these stories would rise to the top after being injected.

The committee is also interested in this injection tool, and is asking Facebook for a list of all stories removed from or injected into Trending Topics.

“How many stories have curators excluded that represented conservative viewpoints or topics of interest to conservatives? How many stories did curators inject that were not, in fact, trending?” one of the questions from the committee’s letter asked.

Facebook has to file a response by May 24, but as Politico reports, the Senate committee can’t actually force Facebook to change its practices. Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV, said the issue is not of urgent national interest.

“The Republican Senate refuses to hold hearings on (Supreme Court nominee) Judge (Merrick) Garland, refuses to fund the President’s request for Zika aid, and takes the most days off of any Senate since 1956, but thinks Facebook hearings are a matter of urgent national interest,” Reid’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Adam Jentleson said. “The taxpayers who pay Republican senators’ salaries probably want their money back.”

Computing

Was your Facebook account hacked in the latest breach? Here’s how to find out

Facebook now reports that its latest data breach affected only 30 million users, down from an initial estimate of 50 million accounts. You can also find out if hackers had accessed your account by visiting a dedicated portal.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix in October, from 'Mindhunter’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in October, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Black Panther’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, subdued humor, or anything in between.
Social Media

3D Facebook photos jump out of the newsfeed, no glasses needed

You're not seeing things -- that photo in your Facebook newsfeed is 3D. Launching today, 3D Facebook Photos use the depth maps from dual-lens smartphones to add dimension to an image as you move your phone.
Social Media

Snap a photo to follow a new friend on Instagram with its Nametags tool

Skip the typing and search bar -- Instagram now allows you to add friends using the in-app camera. Nametags are scannable graphics that will lead straight to your Instagram profile.
Computing

Facebook’s latest data breach could earn Europeans thousands in compensation

Facebook users in Europe distressed about Facebook's revelation that its latest breach left as many as 50 million users exposed could get some compensation. Facebook also faces a class-action suit and a broader GDPR investigation.
News

Voice commands could be coming to Facebook Messenger

Thanks to digital assistants, voice controls are becoming commonplace. One day, we may even be using them in Facebook Messenger. The company has confirmed that it is currently conducting internal tests for Messenger voice commands.
Mobile

Find love with the best LGBT dating apps for iOS and Android

If you're looking to meet someone new, look no further than your phone. Whether it's just a date, or you're looking for something a little more serious, here are the best LGBT dating apps available for Android and iOS.
Smart Home

Creepy or convenient? Facebook’s new Portal smart display follows you around the room

Facebook's Portal devices are video smart speakers with Amazon Alexa voice assistants built in that allow you to make calls between FB friends. The 15-inch Portal+ model features a pivoting camera that follows you around the room as you…
Mobile

2018's 10 best dating apps to help you find the perfect companion

Everyone knows online dating can be stressful, time-consuming, and downright awful. Check out our top picks for the best dating apps, so you can streamline the process and find the right date, whatever you're looking for.
Computing

Google to shut down Google+ after exposure of 500,000 users’ data

After Facebook revealed that 50 million users may have been exposed as a result of a security vulnerability, Google announced it discovered a bug that left 500,000 Google+ users exposed. It will also shut down Google+.
Social Media

Sick of Facebook privacy scandals? Here's how to protect your personal data

With a number of security scandals in 2018, it has us questioning if we should get rid of Facebook. Here's how to protect your personal data without deleting your account, as well as how to just nuke the thing altogether.
Social Media

These are the best ways to make an animated GIF

Love sharing GIFs with your friends and peers, but wish you could make your own? Here's how to do so in Photoshop, or using a few other methods that don't require you to shell out a premium fee with each calendar year.
Social Media

Instagram says its A.I. can track down bullying in photos

Instagram is turning to artificial intelligence to help it root out bullying on its platform. Following similar efforts to target bullying in comments, the company now has systems capable of detecting bullying in photos, too.