Monthly Archives: May 2016

Facebook’s Response to Allegations of Trend Manipulation

On Monday Gizmodo reported from an anonymous source that Facebook has been manipulating trending topics, suppressing conservative views while promoting liberal views and groups.  Gizmodo has updated their article with a post from Tom Stocky, who runs the Trending Topics team at Facebook.

It’s a hard story to get bearings on, as the original story is from an anonymous source with no evidence presented.  Tom Stocky’s post, expectedly, claims that there is no manipulation of this kind happening.  You could choose not to trust Gizmodo’s source, or choose to dismiss Facebook’s claim as protecting their brand.  Both actions are justifiable.

In this case, I’d side with Facebook.  In Stocky’s post he states that all actions on trending topics are logged and reviewed.  This is easily falsifiable, to the point where claiming it would be a larger liability than saying there is no review process.  It’s also comforting to see him state explicitly that topics are not artificially inserted as trending.  The moderators can combine topics and dismiss hoaxes, but cannot create a topic from thin air.

Also interesting is a comment from Eric Davis, claiming that Google’s Safe Browsing algorithms came under similar accusations in their early days.  In that case, more transparency made it clear what criteria the pages were being ranked by.  I feel the same idea could be applied to trending topics to clear up doubts about how such topics are chosen.  What I would like to know is the details of their review process, and some insight into how trending topics are managed.

Whether Facebook is manipulating trending topics or not, I think the concept itself is intriguing.  In the information age control over context and narrative has more power than ever before.  I had written off “trending” stories just to mean “stories chosen by algorithm”, but now I know to use a slightly more critical eye.


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