Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg denies the controversy around trending topics and is conducting investigation into full bias report. Facebook’s trending topics shows popular topics being discussed at any given moment (Source: Facebook)
What’s behind the accusations that Facebook is manipulating its “trending topics” feature to promote or suppress certain political perspectives?
According to the technology blog Gizmodo, which is owned by Gawker Media, a former Facebook contractor with self-described conservative leanings said Facebook downplayed news that conservatives are interested in and artificially promoted liberal issues such as the “BlackLivesMatter” hashtag. Gizmodo did not name this person.
Facebook denied the claims, but the GOP-led US Senate Commerce Committee has sent a letter to Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting answers about the matter.
Here’s a look at what the fuss is about:
WHAT ARE ‘TRENDING’ TOPICS?
Facebook shows popular topics being discussed at any given moment.
As with a similar feature on Twitter, Facebook doesn’t purport to show all the most popular topics. They wouldn’t be interesting anyway and would probably include the weather, cute puppy videos, and years-old listicles about the best ways to stay thin. Facebook says software formulas identify trending topics, and humans review them “to confirm that the topics are in fact trending news in the real world and not, for example, similar-sounding topics or misnomers.”
Also Read: Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook conducting full investigation into Trending news bias reports
Topics that appear as trending can have a self-fulfilling effect, as more Facebook readers see and share the items, and other news organizations decide to write their own stories.
FINDING THE TRENDS
On browsers, the topics appear on the top right corner, separate from the news feed containing updates from your friends and family.
Besides “top trends,” users on traditional personal computers can click on specific topics such as “sports” and “entertainment.” On Wednesday, top politics trends for one U.S. user included comments from “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson on the transgender bathroom issue as well as the Facebook trending controversy itself. Topics for another US Facebook user were slightly different and also had Donald Trump and “Full Frontal” comedy host Samantha Bee giving a goodbye tribute to Ted Cruz.
On mobile devices, users can tap on the search bar to see the top trends, but they can’t see separate categories, regardless of whether it’s on an app or Web browser.
WHERE’S THE PROOF?
There isn’t much proof beyond one anonymous former contractor that Facebook is hiding these conservative trends.
The Associated Press couldn’t independently verify the claims. Facebook’s vice president of search, Tom Stocky, said Monday that the company found “no evidence” that the allegations are true.
“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 … to deliver a more integrated experience,” Stocky wrote.
As one example, he cited combining related topics into a single event, such as “Star Wars” and a movie reference widely used on May 4, “May The Fourth Be With You.”
It might not even be in Facebook’s interest to promote or suppress certain perspectives. The service is used by 1.65 billion people each month, most of them outside the US Facebook has an interest in keeping these people happy, regardless of their political leanings, so that they keep using the service and advertisers keep courting them. Zuckerberg typically sets his sights on the next decade — and decades — into Facebook’s future. As such, an election year such as this one is but a blip.
BACKLASH FOR FACEBOOK?
Facebook’s sheers size and ubiquity means any controversy can attract the attention of the news media, politicians and political activists. Other recent examples include the company’s frequent changes to its privacy policies and its requirement that drag queens and other transgender users use their real names on the site.
The latest firestorm has led to plenty of media coverage, as well as a letter from US Sen. John Thune, the South Dakota Republican who heads the Commerce Committee. He requested information on who at the company made the decisions on stories that appear in the trending feature. He asked for answers by May 24.
A BIG DEAL?
If evidence emerges that Facebook favors certain political perspectives, it would be a big deal, as it could cause people to lose trust in the company as a neutral platform.
Thirty percent of US adults get news on Facebook, according to the Pew Research Center. The firestorm suggests a certain degree of anxiety about the influence Facebook is having in shaping the worldview of its users by becoming their main news source, even as newspapers across the US are shutting down amid low readership and declining advertising dollars.
San Bernardino DA claims extremists iPhone could contain a cyber pathogen.
San Bernardino County District Attorney claims Farook might have used the phone to transmit a "lying-dormant cyber pathogen' into county data systems. A security researcher has claimed that San Bernardino shooter...
Apple wants to sell refurbished iPhones in India.
Apple plans to sell refurbished iPhones in India soon, seeks permission from the government. Apple plans to sell refurbished iPhones in India soon, seeks permission from the government
Tech giant Apple has soug...
Apple unlocking San Bernardino iPhone could set a dangerous precedent: UN.
An FBI demand that Apple unlock an iPhone risks setting a dangerous precedent, the United Nations rights chief warned.. An FBI demand that Apple unlock an iPhone risks setting a dangerous precedent, the United Nati...
Freedom 251: Ringing Bells bought Adcom handsets for Rs 3,600 each.
Adcom said that it sold mobile handsets to Ringing Bells for Rs 3,600 a unit and was unaware of its plans to resell the device at Rs 251.. IT products firm Adcom said that it sold mobile handsets to Ringing Bells f...
After WhatsApp, Instagram now blocks Telegram.
Instagram has disallowed deep-linking profiles to third-party apps including Snapchat and Telegram.. Soon after WhatsApp blocked links to rival messaging app Telegram on Android smartphones, Instagram has also disa...
Call drops: SC denies interim relief to telecom operators on HC order.
SC denies interim relief to telecom companies against the Delhi HC order, will hear it again on March 10. SC has refused interim relief to telecom operators on call drop compensation issue
The Supreme Court tod...
Jays launches u-JAYS premium headphones at Rs 15,990 in India.
The u-JAYS will be one of the most premium headphones available in India at sub-Rs 20k segment. u-JAYS are the most premium set of headphones from the Sweden-based company (Source: Headphone Zone)
Jays, the Swe...
Apple brings customer support service to Twitter.
Apple, in order to extend support to its customers has launched a Twitter account by the name of @AppleSupport on Thursday.. Apple, in order to extend support to its customers has launched a Twitter account by the ...
Hubble telescope spots a galaxy 13.4 billion light-years away from Earth.
Astronomers discover a galaxy that formed just 400 million years after the Big Bang explosion, the most distant galaxy found to date. Astronomers discover a galaxy that formed just 400 million years after the Big B...
Gionee Marathon M5 Lite #ExpressReview: You must really need that battery.
Gionee Marathon M5 Lite will once again focus on delivering overall performance with battery being the USP. Here is our review.. Gionee Marathon M5 Lite is a lighter version of its predecessor that comes with a 4,0...
Xiaomi eyes offline market pie, steps away from Flipkart.
Xiaomi goes offline in a bid to scale its own e-commerce operations in India. Xiaomi’s Hugo Barra literally turned himself into demigod of Mi devices at the Redmi Note 3 launch (Source: Nandagopal Rajan)
Amazon Echo Dot and Echo Tap launched with Alexa inside.
Amazon Echo Tap and Echo Dot speakers are designed to amplify the role of its voice-controlled assistant, Alexa. Amazon Echo Dot is a tiny little speaker with Alexa virtual assistant that can be connected to other ...
Amazon drops encryption feature in Fire tablet software.
Amazon.com Inc has quietly dropped support for disk encryption on its Fire tablets, says the feature is less used by customers. Amazon drops encryption for its Fire tablets at a time when Apple is fighting over iPh...
Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other tech companies file court papers backing Apple.
Leading tech companies joined security experts, independent programmers and civil liberties advocates who filed court papers backing Apple in its fight with the FBI. Tech companies and security experts sign ‘...
Mi India story is very much alive, says Xiaomi VP Hugo Barra.
“Questions were being raised about us. Some asked if the Mi India story was over. We want to say that the Mi India story is very much alive. Mi India has not lost its magic,” said Barra.. Xiaomi Redmi N...
Samsung T3 SSDs introduced for India, start at Rs 10,999 for 250 GB.
Samsung SSD T3 supports proprietary Vertical NAND (V-NAND) and SSD Turbowrite technology. It comes with a capacity of up to 2TB. Samsung SSD T3 is the latest solid state drive from Korean electronics company that o...
Xiaomis 2016 flagship, Mi 5 to launch in India within a month, says Hugo Barra.
Xiaomi Mi 5 India launch could happen as early as next month. Xiaomi Mi 5 is set to launch in India as early as next month, could be the cheapest Snapdragon 820 device
Xiaomi Global VP Hugo Barra on Thursday...
Now take selfies using UltraProlink Hi-Q1 bluetooth speakers.
UltraProlink has launched Hi-Q1 Selfie Bluetooth speaker, that enables users to click selfies while listening to music. . UltraProlink has launched Hi-Q1 Selfie Bluetooth speaker, that enables users to click selfie...
Indian manufacturers face heat as Apple makes inroads into urban India: IDC.
Samsung, Micromax and Lenovo-Motorola own the top three slots in the smartphone market comprising the top 30 cities of India, with Apple coming to the sixth slot in this urban list.. The top 30 cities make up appro...
DishTV products, services now available on Amazon India.
DishTV has announced that all of its products and services will now be available online on Amazon.in. . DishTV has announced that all of its products and services will now be available online on Amazon.in.