Facebook has found itself in a new controversy as accusations surfaced that the social network is practicing political bias in influencing what appears on its trending list.
A source told Gizmodo that Facebook prevented articles on conservative topics such as the right-wing CPAC gathering, Rand Paul and Mitt Romney from hitting the trending section, despite the stories organically trending among Facebook users.
Several former employees of Facebook who are internally known as news curators also told the tech news website that the company instructed them to artificially push certain stories into the trending news section. Some of the news curators were said to even have suppressed certain stories if the topics were not in accordance with the employee's own beliefs.
While reflecting a certain bias on articles and trending lists is not unlike most traditional newsrooms, the issue is Facebook claims that the trending list of the social network is a neutral one, which simply lists the topics that have become popular.
The report sparked outcry from both conservative and liberal critics.
"It is beyond disturbing to learn that this power is being used to silence viewpoints and stories that don't fit someone else's agenda," said the Republican National Committee in a statement.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted that the accusations serve as a reminder of the danger of allowing a Silicon Valley company such as Facebook control content. Breitbart News editor in chief Alexander Marlow added that the report confirmed a long-standing suspicion among conservations of such a practice.
Facebook quickly responded to the allegations, stating that it is against the curation policy of the company to prioritize or suppress certain topics in its trending section. The social network noted that it has guidelines in place to maintain neutrality and preserve consistency.
"Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum," the company said in a statement to TechCrunch, adding that the guidelines do not allow the suppression of certain political alignments nor the prioritization of certain topics or news outlets over others.
"We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so," wrote Facebook VP for Search Tom Stocky in a post on the social network, adding that the guidelines for trending topics are in constant review to ensure that the feature remains relevant to users while keeping Facebook's methods neutral.
While Facebook may have these guidelines in place, it may have been at fault in enforcing them to make sure that the company's news curators did not break the rules. The social network may need to use more stringent measures to ensure proper neutrality in Facebook's trending topics section.
Such a move would be necessary, as any form of bias on the platform could influence the viewpoints and beliefs of its massive user base, which stands at 1.65 billion. With the 2016 presidential election coming up, Facebook will have to prove that it could maintain neutrality to avoid criticism from all sides.