Facebook says trending topics has no ‘systematic political bias’, ends reliance on ‘media 1k’ list

Facebook has submitted a response to U.S. Senator John Thune around an inquiry Congress has over allegations the social networking company may be exhibiting political bias with its Trending Topics. In a follow up letter to the chairman of the Senate commerce committee, company general counsel Colin Stretch explained that Facebook found “no systematic political bias,” but will be making changes to its policy.
Improvements with Trending Topics include scrubbing the so-called “Media 1K” list, which is a list of RSS feeds Facebook uses to supplement its algorithm that pulls in potential trending topics, as well as the top-10 list of news outlets. Stretch wrote that the company will “no longer rely on lists of external websites and news outlets to identify, validate, or assess the importance of particular topics.”
Facebook will also remove the ability for people to assign an “importance level” to topics based on its prominence within the top-10 list of news outlets.
Other updates include clearing up terminology within Facebook’s Guidelines to ensure people understand them better, providing additional training to all reviewers to re-emphasize that content decisions aren’t to be made based on politics or ideology, and adding more controls and oversight.
These changes all emerged from an investigation by Gawker earlier this month that alleged Facebook were routinely suppressing conservative news. The company denied the claims and it raised the ire of conservatives which prompted Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to meet with some members, including TV personality Glenn Beck, last week.
Members of Congress expressed outrage over this issue, which resulted in Sen. Thune’s inquiry. Facebook said that it immediately launched an investigation over the Trending Topic controversy saying that it spoke with current reviewers, their supervisors, a “cross-section of former reviewers”, its contractors, and its policies to understand if “anyone working on the product acted in ways that are inconsistent with our policies and mission.”
While Stretch claimed there wasn’t any “systematic political bias,” he acknowledged that there was no way to discount the possibility of “isolated improper actions or unintentional bias in the implementation of our guidelines or policies.”
The senator from South Dakota issued a statement in response to Facebook, expressing appreciation for the company’s efforts to “address allegations of bias raised in the media and my concern about the lack of transparency in its methodology for determining trending topics.”
“Facebook has been forthcoming about with how it determines trending topics, and steps it will take to minimize the risk of bias from individual human judgment,” Sen. Thune continued. “The seriousness with which Facebook has treated these allegations and its desire to serve as an open platform for all viewpoints is evident and encouraging and I look forward to the company’s actions meeting its public rhetoric.”
You can read Facebook’s entire 12-page response to Senator Thune here.
Updated on 5:11 p.m. Pacific on Monday: This post has been updated to include a statement from Senator Thune.
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