September 10, 2016

No Filter? No Problem

Remember back when people on the Right were all upset that conservative topics were not being appropriately included in Facebook's 'trending topics'? Here's a refresher, from back in May:
If you've ever used Facebook, you've noticed the list of trending topics on the vertical navbar along the right side of the page. You may have even clicked one or two of them to see what's happening or why the topic is trending. What you probably didn't know is that Facebook apparently blacklists certain topics from showing up, or certain news outlets from having their coverage seen by Facebook's audience.
The article, which appeared on a conservative website, The Federalist, went on to describe how some of Facebook's "news curators" told people at Gizmodo how their process worked
... and it turns out that Facebook's new coverage isn't based on fancy, unbiased algorithms at all. Nope. Facebook's news service is instead run by people who want to make sure not of that icky right-wing coverage finds its way in front of people's eyeballs...
Including, apparently, protecting all of us poor, incapable-of-making-our-own-news-reading-choices users from sites like The Blaze, WorldStarHipHop (uh, not sure how this fits as an "icky right-wing" kind of thing...?) and Breitbart. The Federalist article uses the example of the (doctored and debunked) Planned Parenthood videos, and ends with this statement.
Facebook's deliberate blacklisting of conservative content and conservative outlets, as revealed by its own news curators in charge of the process, shouldn't come as any surprise. The only thing surprising is why conservatives would trust organizations like Facebook to provide honest and unbiased accounts of what's happening in the world.
Facebook denied the allegations of trending topic censorship, and then a couple of weeks after the Gizmodo report, changed their process, to clarify that topics shouldn't be selected on the basis of "politics or ideology. And because nothing is more important for Congress to address than a social media site being accused of bias against conservative ideology and hip hop guns-and-booty videos, Facebook communicated directly with Senator John Thune, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, who seemed placated, if not completely satisfied.
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.
Facebook eventually decided to fire the humans and let the machines do it. Computer algorithms will identify the topics, and humans will have some limited oversight role, they announced.

But that wasn't good enough, either. Topics appeared in the wrong category (the horror) and a fake story about Megyn Kelly (calling her a traitor, no less) appeared in the navbar. And there was that story about a man and his, um, 'love' for his McChicken sandwich. And apparently, Siri will wash your dishes or something if you buy the new iPhone 8 when it comes out..

Which brings us to where we are now: the day before the 15th anniversary of 9/11, we've got a trending conspiracy theory that the Twin Towers were taken down by bombs planted in the buildings.

Given that conspiracy theorists are prominent members of the "icky right wing" - and, apparently, they're very close to Donald Trump - is there really any surprise that a conspiracy theory would appear as a trend, even one about 9/11?


Some of the right wing media folks, and politicians, have been known to say things out loud more than a few times that conservatives really wish they hadn't; Trump's position on punishing women for having abortions was a classic example. The 9/11 article (which has apparently been removed by Facebook) might well be another one.

The icky right wingers are all for outrage when their views and ideology are suppressed; it will be interesting to see how loudly they complain about this situation, when their views are presented front and center for a billion or so users to see.

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