I’m getting a lot of inquiries from the media and from just people who know me about this Gizmodo article titled “Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News.” Somehow, of all the conservative news and opinion outlets in the world, RedState happened to be the one that got mentioned by a former Facebook employee who was quoted in the story.
Specifically, the Gizmodo story notes that former employees of Facebook claimed that the Facebook editorial team routinely quashed conservative viewpoints and news sources from being included in the “featured news” section. According to the Gizmodo story:
Another former curator agreed that the operation had an aversion to right-wing news sources. “It was absolutely bias. We were doing it subjectively. It just depends on who the curator is and what time of day it is,” said the former curator. “Every once in awhile a Red State or conservative news source would have a story. But we would have to go and find the same story from a more neutral outlet that wasn’t as biased.”
Stories covered by conservative outlets (like Breitbart, Washington Examiner, and Newsmax) that were trending enough to be picked up by Facebook’s algorithm were excluded unless mainstream sites like the New York Times, the BBC, and CNN covered the same stories.
Let me just say this at the outset: we at RedState have certainly never observed any of the behavior that is alleged in the article being targeted at us, specifically. So far as we are concerned, we have had a good and healthy working relationship with Facebook and our Facebook reps. We understand that we are categorized by Facebook as “advocacy” rather than “news,” which the exact same way Google characterizes us. We aren’t CNN, and we don’t really expect to be treated like CNN – but we would hope that Facebook would treat us equivalently with similar left-leaning outlets: if TPM is “news” then so are we.
It would not be tremendously surprising to any of us to learn that the behavior that is discussed in the Gizmodo article is occurring, however, and it’s a subject that is worthy of discussion. Many people do not understand just exactly how influential Facebook is, just by virtue of its size. There are over a billion Facebook users, which makes them the single largest determiner of how people consume news in the entire world, by far.
Major media outlets like CNN and the BBC have their content and editorial decisions scrutinized with a fine-toothed comb, but Facebook – which is several orders of magnitude more influential than either – largely is not commented on and the selection of items for placement in news feeds is mostly a matter of public mystery.
And it is definitely both true and largely unknown that the specific item mentioned in the Gizmodo story – the featured story feature – is controlled by a human editorial team much like what exists at CNN or MSNBC or anywhere else. I would gather that most people don’t know that piece of information, and I’m glad the Gizmodo article is bringing that to the forefront, if nothing else.
In light of that, it would not be surprising at all to learn that RedState gets passed over as a “non news” site whereas sites like TPM make the featured list, at least in part because of the ideological biases of Facebook employees. Again, I have no knowledge of whether this has occurred or not occurred and as far as I know personally, RedState has always been treated fairly by Facebook and their employees.
But on the whole it’s a good thing that Facebook’s editorial practices receive more scrutiny, because of the immense power that Facebook yields. That is particularly true when content distribution decisions are made by human beings, as opposed to software algorithms that are (at least theoretically) objective. And for that reason I hope Facebook takes the opportunity presented by this Gizmodo article to encourage greater transparency regarding their editorial process in the future.