Social Media Censorship and Neutrality: Is Facebook a Liberal?
By: Amberly Martin
Facebook. We all know it and love it (some more than others). Most of us have a profile and log in regularly to check our timeline, get updates on friends and family, and to read recent news.
For many, logging into the social media website in the mornings and scrolling through the timeline has become a kin to the old fashioned morning newspaper read. Many users ‘like’ pages that grab their interest, or coincide with their personal beliefs, and these pages make-up most of the content visible on the user’s feed.
However, there is a section of the homepage, specifically in the top right corner known as the “Trending” section, wherein, popular news content is shown, regardless of the user’s pre established preferences.
But, are users being mislead?
Are stories being removed from, or injected into this section to give the false impression that they are trending more than others?
Facebook is under recent scrutiny for allegedly censoring conservative related content in this section of their homepage. The accusations claim that this section is actually not compiled of news which is popular by measure of data analytics or user engagement with that specific content, but rather this section is made up of hand picked stories.
So is this content intended to serve some form of political agenda?
Facebook has some explaining to do, as the social media giant is now facing an inquiry by US Senate Republicans, who claim that Facebook has falsely painted itself as an objective source for information. But what is more, Facebook’s supposed value-neutral standpoint is now being entirely questioned.
Does curating the news carry political judgement?
The real question, is whether or not Facebook actually has an obligation to be neutral or objective with how it maintains its content. Whether or not the claims are true, this is a very important position to consider. Many other media outlets hand select their content, which involves both bias and preference, so what is the difference if Facebook does it?
Is there an unspoken expectation that IT firms are required to utilize algorithms before sharing content?
Free-Speech and Neutrality
So, if Facebook actually is removing or injecting stories into the trending topics, is this even a big deal, and should we care? Is it the responsibility of an entity such as Facebook to remove bias and maintain neutrality? Or should they be free to exercise their rights of free speech by posting or sharing what they please, regardless the end of the political spectrum the content falls under?
It isn’t necessarily wrong for Facebook to post a reflection of the companies own viewpoints. However, the controversy seems to be more concerned with leading the people to believe that those stories were organically compiled, reflecting the public’s own clicks, views and shares, when they in fact may not be.
The problem seems to be, not the accusations of bias, but rather, that there has been no admission to it.
With saying that, it is important to remember that editors are people, and will always have preferences which lead to bias. So to completely remove this is nearly impossible until the stories are completely chosen based off data algorithms.
Facebook has denied the allegations of censoring conservative news stories, while promoting liberal stories, and have claimed that they will be conducting an investigation in regards to the claims. The tech giant seems adamant to prove itself innocent of all allegations.
Tom Stocky, vice-president for search, made a post where he maintained that Facebook ‘does not inject stories into trending topics, nor do they promote their reviewers to do so’.
They even featured the original article written by Gizmodo in their trending section, after it was released, which could have been either a ploy or a show of transparency and good faith.
CEO, Mark Zuckerberg says that he plans to invite “leading conservatives and people from across the political spectrum” to discuss the allegations of political bias. He made further claims that if, after the commencement of the investigation, it is found to be true that conservative news stories had been suppressed, then appropriate measures will be taken.
Although there is little evidence to currently support the claims being made, the claims are still damaging. The allegations makes the public skeptical of trusting the media outlet. Facebook is going to have to find a clever way to get out of this one.