UPDATE: Facebook VP of Global Operations Justin Osofsky has issued a statement denying the firm discriminates against stories based on political affiliation. Osoksky said there’s a team of reviewers who regulate what appears within users feeds.
He said: “Topics that are eligible to appear in the product are surfaced by our algorithms, not people. This product also has a team of people who play an important role in making sure that what appears in Trending Topics is high-quality and useful.”
He added: “Facebook does not allow or advise our reviewers to discriminate against sources of any political origin, period.”
Leaked internal documents have reportedly revealed how Facebook employs human editors to select news for its trending topics, rather than simply relying on computer algorithms.
The documents, shown to the Guardian, reveals a team of editors have significant say over which stories appear in the right sidebar on Facebook.com.
These editors, once a team of just 12 people overseeing how news is delivered to over 1 billion people each day, are able to inject or blacklist stories.
One portion of the documents advises: “You should mark a topic as ‘National Story’ importance if it is among the 1-3 top stories of the day,”
“We measure this by checking if it is leading at least 5 of the following 10 news websites: BBC News, CNN, Fox News, The Guardian, NBC News, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Yahoo News or Yahoo.”
Publicly, the company cites a data driven approach claiming what users had previously liked, read and clicked and their location play into what stories show up.
The leak of the documents comes as Facebook has faced criticism in the US for an apparent political bias within the stories. US Senate commerce committee chair John Thune had called for a congressional inquiry into the matter.
Earlier this month, Facebook VP Tom Stocky had claimed: “We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so.”
Today’s leak may undercut that statement, depending on the interpretation of the word ‘artificially.’