May 13, 2016

"The reason I care so much about this is that it gets to the core of everything Facebook is and everything I want it to be."

Writes Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, on Facebook, responding to charges that Facebook's "Trending Topics" discriminates against the conservative viewpoint.
Trending Topics is designed to surface the most newsworthy and popular conversations on Facebook.  We have rigorous guidelines that do not permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or the suppression of political perspectives.

This week, there was a report suggesting that Facebook contractors working on Trending Topics suppressed stories with conservative viewpoints. We take this report very seriously and are conducting a full investigation to ensure our teams upheld the integrity of this product.

We have found no evidence that this report is true. If we find anything against our principles, you have my commitment that we will take additional steps to address it.

In the coming weeks, I'll also be inviting leading conservatives and people from across the political spectrum to talk with me about this and share their points of view. I want to have a direct conversation about what Facebook stands for and how we can be sure our platform stays as open as possible.

The reason I care so much about this is that it gets to the core of everything Facebook is and everything I want it to be. Every tool we build is designed to give more people a voice and bring our global community together. For as long as I'm leading this company this will always be our mission.
When I first read that, I thought it was banal propaganda for the company, but sitting down to write about it, I really can't find anything to complain about.

He's at least acting as though he feels the pressure to subject his private company to free-speech values and wants to be judged by whether he meets a commitment to viewpoint neutrality as if Facebook were the government and capable of violating our free-speech rights.

Even if he secretly hopes to insinuate political liberalism to the extent that he can, he knows he's being watched carefully, he's invited more scrutiny, and he's asked to be judged by the standards of neutrality. That's all very good.

He could have said Facebook is a private company and, as such, we, like our users, have free speech rights and we choose to express our viewpoint through the subtle, wise, and beneficial curation of our Trending Topics feature.

56 comments:

Gordon said...

Zuckerberg then left for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The two were to discuss additional ways in which Facebook could be used to supress dissent over the chancellor's refugee policy.

Tommy Duncan said...

Our people have done a thorough investigation of our people and have found our people did nothing wrong. Our people will continue to investigate (wink wink) until the media's short memory flushes the story.

Zuckerberg has been paying attention the last 7.5 years. He is a quick study of the Obama approach.

tim maguire said...

It read slike a man protecting his golden goose. You want something to criticize? Here it is: "If we find anything against our principles, you have my commitment that we will take additional steps to address it."

What is he saying there? What is he promising?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. A Clinton couldn't have said it better.

"He could have said..." No, he couldn't have. He said what he needed to and he promised nothing.

David Begley said...

These people are contractors; not employees. That means independent contractors. If they are independent contractors, how can Facebook control them regarding how they do their jobs? That's part of both the common law "ABC" and statutory tests.

Are most of Facebook's people contractors?

This is all about payroll tax savings.



David Begley said...

The kids that exposed this scam are now probably scared to death.

I suspect this whole matter is "he said, she said." I believe the story. Zuckerberg is a Leftist and that's how they operate. Manipulate the media and then lie.

Expat(ish) said...

I have a lot of friends in SV and the chat (on Facebook!) was basically: of course.

Take a look at the impetus to put editors in - "people" were upset more Ferguson stories weren't trending. IOW, nobody on FB wanted to read them. So they "hired" unemployable liberal arts majors to inject the stories "people" wanted trending, even if nobody was reading them organically.

Uh, huh, nothing to see here, move along.

-XC

Crazy Jane said...

I have Facebook friends on the far left and far right. The far right guy's account was cancelled at least three times over several years; not so the left wingers' accounts. I blocked all of them in early 2015 -- too much contempt and smuggery -- and so am not up to date on Facebook's current policy.

gspencer said...

And isn't it special that you choose to believe MZ.

Robert Cook said...

"The kids that exposed this scam are now probably scared to death."

Oh, please.

David Begley said...

Robert Cook

Don't you think a major controversy involving a multi-billion dollar company is scary?

damikesc said...


We have found no evidence that this report is true.


...outside of the folks who did it saying it's true....

The Godfather said...

Whenever some DA announces an indictment of some high-profile defendant, the defendant's lawyer or other spokesperson is quoted as saying the the defendant "denies all wrongdoing". So Zuckerman denies wrongdoing. Big surprise.

Danno said...

I hope Zuckerberg makes the pledge to have cruel neutrality as the principle guiding the trending posts on FB.

traditionalguy said...

If the medium is the message, then Facebook is a Totalitarian Governance Propaganda Tool, even when they are putting on a show that they are behaving for a season.

Jake said...

What can we call the Zuckerberg/Trump Summit?

David said...

It doesn't matter what he thinks. It's a function of hiring. All the guidelines in the world are not going to prevent a bunch of liberal young people from slanting the reporting liberal. They have been raised on the idea that their personal beliefs are sovereign and guidelines from a rich aging guy like Zuckerberg will be ignored as much as possible.

Tank said...


Tommy Duncan said...

Our people have done a thorough investigation of our people and have found our people did nothing wrong. Our people will continue to investigate (wink wink) until the media's short memory flushes the story.

Nice.

CStanley said...

I'm sure it was just two rogue employees in Cincinnati.

Rocketeer said...

At this point, FB it is a media analog of a "common carrier" and therefore may not "express [their] viewpoint through the subtle, wise, and beneficial curation of [their] Trending Topics feature." Unless, as I am (unfortunately) beginning the think, you are cnmfortable with certain viewpoints at best being forced to the back of the bus, and at worst being denied a hearing altogether.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

I mean, it's important to keep in mind that there didn't need to be an intentional project to skew the results for there to still be a problem, though. Take the news media, or law professors as a group. They're overwhelmingly liberal, right? So much so that law students assume a center-left professor who just happens to give non-Left legal viewpoints basic respect in the classroom is assumed by those law students to be some kind of conservative, yeah? Ok, if you ask those other law professors "are you intentionally teaching bias against non-Left legal ideas" I bet almost all of them would say no! It's still a problem.

But add me to the list of people who're skeptical that Facebook (based on the reports/gossip items we've seen) didn't intentionally skew the results in a way that just happens to align with their employee's/owner's political leanings (which just so happen to be Left-liberal).

Their company, their rules--I'm ok with that. It is good to see that their CEO has to at least pay lip service to the idea of political neutrality...maybe they're learning a lesson from the beating Twitter's taking (stock price-wise, at least) that some have said is at least in part a reaction to Twitter's politicization/open targeting of non-Left viewpoints.

William said...

I'd believe him if he announced some sort of affirmative action hiring program for the hiring of conservatives.......There's this pervasive, unrelenting effort to ridicule conservatives and sanctify liberals across all media platforms. It just never stops. It doesn't cause very many people to change their opinions but it has caused them to become quite cynical about the media.......The historical record shows that the liberal position has been wrong about any number of issues, but such failures are never dramatized and rarely publicized.

Bruce Hayden said...

@Rocketeer - I think that the problem is the opposite, that if there is enough viewpoint discrimination, they could very well lose their safe harbor of being a common carrier, and thus incur some liability for what is said there. It is an absence of editing that protects them.

Jason Lee said...

Discrimination against conservatives is as evil and insidious as any other form of discrimination.

Todd said...

So basically he said "If there are any problems (which I don't think there are), they will be addressed", whatever the heck that means. At no time did he say "if this is true, those responsible will be fired". I would bet you if it were uncovered that liberal views were being suppressed, he would be firing folks.

Cacimbo Cacimbo said...

Agree with Expat over Ferguson topic.

FB is running a massive astroturf campaign. The black vote drops during off year elections. Getting black people fired up that police are killing them willy nilly is one way to drive turnout. Enter Michael Brown/Ferguson. That witnesses supported the officers statement from the beginning is deemed irrelevant by media. Instead media front page stories that dispute the officers and witness accounts in favor of the tale of criminal associates. Now we learn that "people" were upset that Ferguson was not trending on FB. So FB rewrites it guidelines so they can inject stories into their trending feed that are not trending. Ferguson is also a story that was reported very differently on the right and left. By FB's own criteria they only want a single Ferguson story in their trending feed. So they have to prioritize one point of view.

Rocketeer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Otto said...

"Even if he secretly hopes to insinuate political liberalism to the extent that he can, he knows he's being watched carefully, he's invited more scrutiny, and he's asked to be judged by the standards of neutrality. That's all very good."
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Robert Cook said...

"Robert Cook

"Don't you think a major controversy involving a multi-billion dollar company is scary?"


If they have threatened to sue you, accusing you of libeling them, I'm sure it's very frightening, but there has been no suggestion that Facebook has done this. Zuckerberg has only said they would conduct an internal investigation to determine whether the allegations can be substantiated.

tim in vermont said...

An interpretation that is entirely consistent with his words is that he desperately wants to be seen as unbiased because it increases his power to manipulate. Or he is swimming in Kool Aide and doesn't even know it or want to know it.

Unknown said...

According to a Thursday Fox News report, one of the inputs to "Trending" is the occurrences of a story on something like ten web sites including Fox, WSJ, NYT, WaPo, CNN and and a few others.

A story that appears on five of these ten is a candidate for trending.

Looks to me like this could be more a case of "Disparate Impact," resulting from FB having selected these as their sources and less about deliberate, real-time, manipulation.

Anyway, that's what I think.

Ipso Fatso said...

Even if he secretly hopes to insinuate political liberalism to the extent that he can...

Ann, don't you mean insulate, not insinuate?

tim in vermont said...

Rush used to say he was executing host duties flawlessly too, in that he was carrying out the boss's will. Only Rush said it with a wink. Zuckerberg is clueless.

chickelit said...

"We are the Zuckerborg. Your personal data and Facebook thoughts will be added to our own. Resistance is futile."

tim in vermont said...

Plus one, ipso

EDH said...

The reason I care so much about this is that it gets to the core of everything Facebook is and everything I want it to be...

This week, there was a report suggesting that Facebook contractors working on Trending Topics suppressed stories with conservative viewpoints. We take this report very seriously and are conducting a full investigation to ensure our teams upheld the integrity of this product.


So the "core of everything Facebook is and everything I want it to be" is being done by... contractors?

Can you say plausible deniability?

We take this report very seriously and are conducting a full investigation to ensure our teams upheld the integrity of this product.

"As always, should you or any of your Facebook contractors be caught or killed, the Zuck will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds."

tim in vermont said...

CBS is putting out a new political comedy, "Braindead" I am sure it will be used to mock Hillary Clinton as much as Trump. CBS is at least as committed to fairness as Zuckerberg.

Birkel said...

I like it when all the Liberals, Leftists and progressives -- Robert Cook to Ann Althouse -- gather 'round to protect a ONE PERCENTER like Mark Zuckerberg.

Too fucking funny!

Big Mike said...

We have found no evidence that this report is true.

The contractors lied when they said that they did it, or he's lying now. I suspect that if Zuckerberg conducted a genuine investigation he'd find evidence all right.

@Althouse, BTW, you can be awfully gullible at times. One would think that a woman in her 60's would be more astute. One is disappointed.

Darrell said...

The major MSM outlets, particularly CBS, never found a single hint of bias in the internal reviews they conducted. Neither will FB's in-house review.

Big Mike said...

@Birkel, put a few zeroes between the decimal point and the '1' when you characterize Zuckerberg.

Zach said...

The reason I care so much about this is that it gets to the core of everything Facebook is and everything I want it to be. Every tool we build is designed to give more people a voice and bring our global community together. For as long as I'm leading this company this will always be our mission.

It's a nice sentiment, but I think this episode reveals that the details can get tricky. Facebook is a media empire by default, but it's a media empire that doesn't produce any content. So how do they choose what people see?

There are three ways you can go about it
1) You can show people content generated by their friends with no curation at all.
2) You can curate content so that people see what you think they will like.
3) You can curate content so that people see what you want them to see.

Facebook is sold to users as #1. It's sold to advertisers as #3. In actual practice, it's #2 with a mixture of #3 -- Facebook has algorithms to select the content you're shown, and they choose between different algorithms. And of course all ads are firmly #3.

Taking a corporate speech line -- strong #3 -- is logically consistent, but I think it kills the value proposition to the people who are actually generating the content. I'm on Facebook because I want to keep up to date with old friends. I want baby pictures and stupid pet tricks. If those people start feeling inhibited, what does Facebook provide that can replace the missing content? You can't just show me a random baby picture -- it's only important because it's my friend's baby.

Yancey Ward said...

Zach is pretty much spot on. Facebook has a dilemma- they really can't tell you the truth about how they direct users to content, so it is lies by omission until they get caught out, then direct lies afterwards.

eddie willers said...

Zuckerberg has only said they would conduct an internal investigation to determine whether the allegations can be substantiated.

I remember when Nixon directed John Dean to get to the bottom of this Watergate thing.

Ron Ziegler reported that the results showed nothing but a third rate burglary.

Jonathan Graehl said...

If he's serious:

1. algorithms instead of people. train the algorithms on human-judged corpora and publish that data so we can see that it's got the right stuff in it. people can lobby for addition/removal.

2. *very* specific and predictably judged guidelines for human-judged things that they feel would be damaging to let past the algorithms (preferably an empty set)

3. end "mob rule" "report as offensive" bans, which are simply brigaded against unpopular right-wing and anti-islam figures

If none of these happen, it was just empty PR.

Zuckerberg should talk to Chuck C. Johnson about this.

tim in vermont said...

Zuckerberg is no "one percenter" about the only people he envies as far as wealth goes are Putin and Castro. You see, if all of the wealth goes to a single family that isn't inequality anymore, because nobody else knows anybody who is richer than them. Everything is cool that way for lefties.

tim in vermont said...

He's not serious.

Birkel said...

Big Mike:

Yes, of course. But that is not the Leftist language and I am a stickler.

:-)

Robert Cook said...

"I like it when all the Liberals, Leftists and progressives -- Robert Cook to Ann Althouse -- gather 'round to protect a ONE PERCENTER like Mark Zuckerberg.

"Too fucking funny!"


As usual, Birkel misunderstands or misrepresents what he reads to such extent one must question his level of actual functional literacy (in the first hand) or intellectual honesty, (in the second hand), or both.

Where have I defended Zuckerberg? My comments here today have nothing to do with Zuckerberg. (Also, why do you assume I would scorn him simply because he is wealthy? Once again, you display your inability to see the world in other than the most primitive of terms.)

Sammy Finkelman said...

The accusation about removing stories was not about it coming from the top, but rather, many Facebook editors acting like Barnes and Noble book store clerks, when they don't display conservative (or maybe anti-Democrat) material.

The person saying it indicated that he and a few otehrs were different. It was therefore, not coming from the top. But a result of hiring people from elite colleges.

Coming from the top, however was the insertion of some matters like stories about Black Lives Matter; and this happened because people in that organization complained to Mark Zuckerberg and others that they were NOT getting coverage, so he gave it to them. Tghey would get instuctions from time to time to include this or that. And furtehmore, of course, the algorithm was tweaked.

A third accusation is that sometimes a news story from a conservative source was replaced by a story on the same topic from a more "respectable" publication. It is not clear on whose iniative thatw as done, but it may have been somewhat pursuant to some instructions maybe to tilt toward mainstream sources.

Birkel said...

So, Robert Cook, you are a fan of the 1%?

Or you just like the rich Lefties?

Koch brothers are copacetic?

Do tell.

mockturtle said...

Can you say 'disingenuous'?

Sammy Finkelman said...

The Facebook story made the (whole) front page of the New York Post on Tuesday, where there was the headline

YOU WON'T
READ
THIS ON
FACEBOOK

Site censors
f the news


By Thursday the story was on the front page of the New York Times, (below the fold)

Algorthms with Agendas
And the Sway of Facebook


It's anews organization now, and needs a code of ethics, like the New York Times, the "State of the Art" columnist wrote more or less in that article.

It's been on the CBS Evening News yesterday and today.

Robert Cook said...

Still, stupid, Birkel. Why do you assume I favor Zuckerberg? I haven't expressed any opinion of him at all, as that has nothing to do with the point I chose to respond to.

Birkel said...

You mean the post by Althouse?

Run away, communist.

richardsson said...

I know for a fact that Zuckerberg is liar. Somebody at Facebook altered my posts to mean what they wanted rather than what I wanted. So I quit, which is the only sensible thing to do. You have to understand that just like a skunk stinks because he's a skunk, a liar lies because he's a liar. It's an adaptation of nature.

tim in vermont said...

"What responsibility does Facebook have to prevent President Trump in 2017?"

Remember that story? But I am sure Zuckerberg will get it all straightened out. I mean the idea of a social media site censoring conservatives? It's absurd/