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Facebook Denies Supressing Conservative News Stories


Among the stories trending on Facebook this morning, the allegation that Facebook has been suppressing news of interest to conservatives in its list of trending stories. Facebook says it is investigating the charges. NPR's David Folkenflik has more.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Let's give Facebook the first word here. Here's Facebook's founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.


MARK ZUCKERBERG: We stand for connecting every person...

FOLKENFLIK: Zuckerberg spoke last month at the F8 conference for developers.


ZUCKERBERG: ...For giving all people a voice, for free flow of ideas and culture across nations.

FOLKENFLIK: Only the tech site Gizmodo published a story yesterday implying that's not quite the case when it comes to trending stories, those posts on the right-hand column of your screen on Facebook calling your attention to recent developments you might've missed. They were said to be determined by secret algorithms, computer formulas. But Gizmodo reported that so-called curators for Facebook's trending news stories have put a thumb on the scale.

According to Gizmodo, unnamed former curators said what stories appeared often depended on the taste of individual supervisors, some of whom were said to favor liberal causes, such as Black Lives Matter, and that they knocked out stories that conservatives might have taken more interest in.

RAJU NARISETTI: These content distributor platforms have become purveyors of a kind of political correctness.

FOLKENFLIK: Raju Narisetti is senior vice president for strategy at News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and The Times of London.

NARISETTI: Genuine debate is drowned out sometimes by the seductiveness of sharing and likability and alternate views are marginalized.

FOLKENFLIK: Narisetti says news organizations have questioned what stories are shown by Facebook or Google News or other social media sites.

NARISETTI: And oftentimes when you complain about it or when you raise the issue, these platforms typically say, oh, it's a black box and it's an algorithm and we are not controlling it.

FOLKENFLIK: Facebook's vice president for search denied the allegations in a post overnight, saying Facebook has strict guidelines of neutrality for trending stories and that its review found no bias. Facebook has more than one billion users a day and many news organizations have decided the social media platform is indispensable.

More than 4.8 million people have liked NPR's Facebook page, meaning that they are directed to its posts. And Facebook pays NPR and other leading news organizations to produce live video streams that run on the site. The network calls its offerings NPR live.

VIVIAN SCHILLER: News is - provides currency. What these platforms want more than anything are people to come back again and again and again.

FOLKENFLIK: Vivian Schiller used to be the head of global news for Twitter. She's also a former CEO of NPR. Schiller says there's a tacit understanding between Facebook and its users.

SCHILLER: Facebook doesn't pretend to be a news organization. If anything, it is closer to a public utility. We're all on Facebook and none of us, I think, go into Facebook thinking that we are being pushed towards one particular point of view or another.

FOLKENFLIK: Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh weighed in today as well.


RUSH LIMBAUGH: Conservatism is being censored - actively censored, not by virtue of algorithms, not because Facebook users are not reading conservative things but...

FOLKENFLIK: The Republican chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, John Thune, added his voice to calls for Facebook to open the black box and to explain how its decisions are made, raising the specter of government intervention. Late this afternoon, Facebook told NPR it will review its practices more deeply and address the senator's questions. David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.