Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Facebook allegedly censoring conservative news

A former Facebook worker recently told a Tech blog called Gizmodo that Facebook routinely suppresses conservative news from appearing on the trend bar on Facebook. Reportedly, the workers were told to falsely "inject trending articles" or news on the side bar even though conservative news was actually trending. Examples of suppressed news include the accusation of Lois Lerner or the murder of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. While the process of "injection" exists in order to allow "curators," or individuals who are responsible for writing the short descriptions and headlines on the sidebar, override the algorithm to include timely news, certain individuals have further alleged that Facebook told curators to inject news that typically was from liberal sources or to place events that were not trending on the sidebar. Others have alleged that Facebook greatly limits its curator's abilities to have company related news reach the sidebar, while others claim that the selection of articles or events on the sidebar are greatly affected by subjective standards based on which employee happens to be on a shift.

(blog.storyful.com)
 Since Facebook attracts millions of views on a global scale, the alleged suppression of conservative news has many ramifications. Although there is no concrete evidence to support these claims, the possibility of the suppression is quite striking.

 Taking this into account, how do you think social media shapes public opinion and affects the distribution of news? In terms of the First Amendment, how would Facebook's alleged actions fair? How does Facebook's position as a company affect the theoretical ramifications of its alleged actions? Considering other social media platforms like Twitter, would the "injection" process be properly justified if it allowed Facebook to compete effectively with other companies? How would Facebook's alleged censorship affect the electoral process?


USA Today
Gizmodo
Wall Street Journal
CNN Money
TechCrunch
Politico
NPR

12 comments:

Daniel Jun said...

The question running through my head while reading this article was, well, does anyone read the trending sidebar on Facebook? I actually didn't even notice its existence until I read this article (apparently iOS 10 is going to be amazing). Why do people go on Facebook? The vast majority of people are on there to look at what friends or their liked groups have posted, not to learn about the plethora of political or polarized issues circling the Internet.
Perhaps I'm biased. Maybe I'd feel a bit more affronted if liberal news was being censored. But despite questioning my own reasoning, I have to say, ultimately, that we are the ones using Facebook, and Facebook is under no obligation to be unbiased. Many news sites and the like provide specific sides on issues, specifically a liberal or a conservative tilt. Thus, I do not believe it is such a big deal for Facebook to censor news. Although, once Facebook begins unjustly censoring posts from users, I will be concerned.

Jonathan Liu said...

Honestly, I don't see the issue. Partisan blogs essentially create their fanbase by censoring or refuting the news from the opposing party, and promoting the news supporting their own party. Facebook is a private company, and they can control what they put on their website. If they're purposefully censoring some conservative news on their own website, that means that their website just has a liberal tilt; if that was illegal, there simply wouldn't exist media in politics.
Furthermore, it's not like Facebook is the most reliable source for news anyway. If you click on the trending link, it's generally one article about the issue, and the rest of the page just shows people reacting publicly on facebook to the issue. Facebook does not provide its own opinion, does not filter those reactions, and does not attempt to skew the information in any way. The way I see it, missing a few conservative news stories which most likely disappeared within a news cycle anyway can be attributed to carelessness just as much as intentional bias.

Alex Binsacca said...

Agreeing with Jonathan, this policy in Facebook is not necessarily a violation of the 1st amendment. I mean news channels have been doing it for years. They have been filtering the type of news that reaches their viewers since the beginning. If a news channel decides to identify as a liberal organization, than they will make sure to show news reports that appeals to their liberal audience. However, there is limit to which Facebook can censor the content on their website. For example they are not allowed to take down someone's post about abortion for being to extreme. They can only censor such a post if the post could be seen as dialogue with a harmful nature. These restrictions go the same for any other social media company such as Twitter or Instagram. I would also argue that this trend could be a result of the current social status of the United States. I think people may actually be more liberal on social media, because they tend to be more expressive online than in real life. Online people aren't as afraid of expressing their ideas compared to how they act in real life. Thus, because people are more expressively liberal online that Facebook has tilted more liberal due to so many of their customers political sociology.

Charles Cao said...

I agree with Daniel's point that this case doesn't necessarily violate the 1st Amendment because we ourselves choose to use Facebook, and Facebook is not required to be neutral. Likewise, I agree that this practice has been used for as long as media and social media has been around. The worrisome, but interesting part of all this is to really see the power that media groups like Facebook have on our perceptions and views. Sure, Facebook might be slightly dying with our generation, but it still has a far reach in our country with over 167 million users in total. It's not just about having a sightly liberal bias. That select group of ivy league programmers have the power, through coding algorithms, to determine what millions of Americans see and read everyday. In fact, simply viewing the headlines of trending topics can influence a user's perception without reading the article at all. To me, it's just interesting to see the power that the media has on our country. As the influence of social media continues to rise, I expect more stories like this to come out in the future.

Arya Habibi said...

I agree with Jonathan, Facebook is a company and they can choose what content they allow or want on their website. If Facebook wants to "Curate" its content to tilt one direction or another, that's between them and their shareholders. In addition, I agree with this not being a violation of the 1st Amendment and even within Facebook terms and conditions, they reserve the right to remove content as they please and if they want to hide conservative posts from the side bar, that's their right to do so. I think the only negative part about this whole situation is the workers that were being lied to and the lack of transparency within the company. I mean while it's not good for a company to hide their intentions to the public, I think it's even worse for a company to hide their intentions to their own employees. My only question that I have is: does Facebook censor conservative posts in other countries as well?(such a Germany or France).

Abhishek Paramasivan said...

Agreeing with the previous comments, facebook's actions do not violate the first amendment. Social Media is just that: Social. People don't browse facebook to read news stories, they use it connect with people. Restricting certain content is completely legal. This practice is more or less the gatekeeping principle we discussed in class, and as such it is practiced by many media sources around the world. Just because facebook has more users does not mean that it has any larger ramifications than the other sites because people don't come to facebook to read the news. The republican party might use this as an excuse to criticize the democrats saying this is an injustice which Trump would use to rally up his supporters. It might also tilt some people who are between parties move away from voting democrat if conservative media publishes this story in a negative connotation.

Cecily Bohanek said...

I agree with everyone else. Often times extremely conservative news leans towards what might be considered "hate speech", and since those "news" sources have such an active presence on Facebook, I can understand the trepidation on their part. The comments section can become such a cesspool of scum and villainy, so I think the idea behind the censorship might stem from a place of wanting to make sure the internet (where everyone underestimates how vulnerable they really are) can be a safe place. However, I think it is violating the neutrality the internet holds so dear. The whole thing reminds me of the ongoing frustration users of Instagram have with that company – its automatic censorship scanners can censor perfectly innocent or highly contested photos. If you look at it, the internet is a relatively infantile thing, and I believe over time the censorship issues of the internet will be settled and figured out, for better or for worse.
To answer Arya's question, I have no evidence or knowledge to make a definite, true claim, but countries are certainly different in terms of which political party is more favored and which ideals are more common. It may occur, but it may not be nearly as black-and-white of an issue (to us).

Jessica Westmont said...

I agree with Cecily. Conservative news can often be hateful articles and radical opinions about certain social issues. Facebook blocking an article written by an anti-abortion advocate can be justified if the article is being too extreme. Also conservative news often is not trending on social media as often due to much of social media having a more young and liberal audience. When I go on facebook and see whats trending it is usually about new movies coming out, and celebrity's drama because that is what most people pay attention to on social media.

Christopher Duan said...

Cecily and Jessica raise good points. Social media is generally more liberal leaning, because I think that liberal generally means more open to new ideas and concepts. Technology and social media seems less prevalent the older one gets, and so accordingly younger, more liberal demographics are attracted to it. In terms of the First Amendment, the Constitution only applies to the government, not individual companies. As Facebook is a private company, they may censor or publish whatever they want, liberal or conservative. Of course, the term "trending" is up to interpretation, and just like if CNN is producing more news in their "trending" section that is liberal rather than conservative, Facebook can do what they want. Of course the electoral process can be affected, since there is more liberal news, if these allegations are true. but just to be clear, Facebook never made a promise to users that they would provide "clear, unbiased news" with equal attention to all subject matter. This should be a smaller issue than people are making it to be, in my opinion.

ETHAN CHAO said...

Social media does play a pretty big part in our opinions, as it is a space where so much information comes together. However, the fact that the companies that control social media can control how that information comes together is quite frightening, even if it suppresses information you don't like. These companies aren't governments, but if we apply our laws and Constitution to it, we see that Facebook's surpression of conservatism is indeed a violation of free speech, but since Facebook is made of a conglomeration of media sources, they are allowed to do so by the Freedom of Press. What we have here is a bit of a paradox. However, we must decide between Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech; to allow Facebook to continue their partisan control, or to ban them from doing so. This may seem like a small issue for many of us, as many of us are quite liberal, but can be insulting to conservatives, whom we must remember exist in this country too. Perhaps Facebook can make these partisan feeds an option; let users choose between conservative, liberal, or both, so that no one is offended.

Cami Nemschoff said...

I agree with Jonathan. I do not see this as a significant issue because Facebook has a right to freedom of speech, and people have the right to not go on Facebook. Nobody is forcing conservatives to read the news on Facebook, just like nobody forces liberals to go on Conservative blogs to read the news. People can choose where they get there news and in what way it is presented. Additionally, there is no concrete evidence yet so there is no need for people to become extremely angered. As for your other question, I think that social media does have a significant influence on what news people see. I have seen first hand that when a big news story hits, numerous people on Facebook are posting statuses and URL links to articles. With more and more people using social media these days, it is reasonable to believe that it had a large impact on people in all aspects.

Cami Nemschoff said...

I agree with Jonathan. I do not see this as a significant issue because Facebook has a right to freedom of speech, and people have the right to not go on Facebook. Nobody is forcing conservatives to read the news on Facebook, just like nobody forces liberals to go on Conservative blogs to read the news. People can choose where they get there news and in what way it is presented. Additionally, there is no concrete evidence yet so there is no need for people to become extremely angered. As for your other question, I think that social media does have a significant influence on what news people see. I have seen first hand that when a big news story hits, numerous people on Facebook are posting statuses and URL links to articles. With more and more people using social media these days, it is reasonable to believe that it had a large impact on people in all aspects.