Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

Here's what you need to know about the bias complaints on Facebook's 'trending' tool

NEW YORK — What's behind the accusations that Facebook is manipulating its "trending topics" feature to promote or suppress certain political perspectives?

According to the technology blog Gizmodo , which is owned by Gawker Media, a former Facebook contractor with self-described conservative leanings said Facebook downplayed news that conservatives are interested in and artificially promoted liberal issues such as the "BlackLivesMatter" hashtag. Gizmodo did not name this person.

Facebook denied the claims, but the GOP-led U.S. Senate Commerce Committee has sent a letter to Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting answers about the matter.

Here's a look at what the controversy is about:

WHAT ARE 'TRENDING' TOPICS?

Facebook shows some of the most popular topics being discussed at any given moment. On browsers, the topics appear on the top right corner, separate from the news feed containing updates from your friends and family.

Besides "top trends," users on traditional personal computers can click on specific topics such as "sports" and "entertainment." On Wednesday, top politics trends for one U.S. user included comments from "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson on the transgender bathroom issue as well as the Facebook trending controversy itself. Topics for another U.S. Facebook user were slightly different and also had Donald Trump and Full Frontal comedy host Samantha Bee giving a goodbye tribute to Ted Cruz.

RELATED COVERAGE: Republicans press Facebook over allegations of bias against conservative news

On mobile devices, users can tap on the search bar to see the top trends, but they can't see separate categories, regardless of whether it's on an app or web browser.

As with a similar feature on Twitter, Facebook doesn't purport to show all the most popular topics. They wouldn't be interesting anyway and would probably include the weather, cute puppy videos, and years-old listicles about the best ways to stay thin. Facebook says software formulas identify trending topics, and humans review them "to confirm that the topics are in fact trending news in the real world and not, for example, similar-sounding topics or misnomers."

WHAT IS THE PROOF THAT FACEBOOK ACTUALLY DOES THIS?

There isn't much proof beyond one anonymous former contractor.

The Associated Press could not independently verify the claims. Facebook's vice president of search, Tom Stocky, said Monday that the company found "no evidence" that the allegations are true.

"We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so. Our guidelines do permit reviewers to take steps to make topics more coherent, such as combining related topics into a single event (such as

It might not even be in Facebook's interest to promote or suppress certain perspectives. The service is used by 1.65 billion people each month, most of them outside the U.S. Facebook has an interest in keeping these people happy, regardless of their political leanings, so that they keep using the service and advertisers keep courting them. Zuckerberg typically sets his sights on the next decade — and decades — into Facebook's future. As such, an election year such as this one is but a blip.

BACKLASH FOR FACEBOOK?

Facebook's sheers size and ubiquity means any controversy can attract the attention of the news media, politicians and political activists. Other recent examples include the company's frequent changes to its privacy policies and its requirement that drag queens and other transgender users use their real names on the site.

The latest firestorm has led to plenty of media coverage, as well as a letter from U.S. Sen. John Thune, the South Dakota Republican who heads the Commerce Committee. He requested information on who at the company made the decisions on stories that appear in the trending feature. He asked for answers by May 24.

IS THIS A BIG DEAL?

If evidence emerges that Facebook favors certain political perspectives, it would be a big deal, as it could cause people to lose trust in the company as a neutral platform.

Thirty percent of U.S. adults get news on Facebook, according to the Pew Research Center. The firestorm suggests a certain degree of anxiety about the influence Facebook is having in shaping the worldview of its users by becoming their main news source, even as newspapers across the U.S. are shutting down amid low readership and declining advertising dollars.

Comments
Edward Peachey demands severance from CareerSource before stepping down

Edward Peachey demands severance from CareerSource before stepping down

The head of the Pinellas and Hillsborough career centers under multiple investigations into the way they report job placement figures says he has no intention of stepping down.That’s unless he is paid five months severance.In a letter from his attorn...
Published: 02/23/18
Terminally ill Valrico man dies a month after marrying junior high sweetheart

Terminally ill Valrico man dies a month after marrying junior high sweetheart

VALRICO — During his final few days, 19-year-old Dustin Snyder moved to a hospice house, surrounded himself with belongings from home, swam in a pool and visited the beach in Ruskin.Wherever he went, the terminally ill Valrico man had family beside h...
Published: 02/23/18
Tampa Downtown Partnership gets initial city okay to expand north

Tampa Downtown Partnership gets initial city okay to expand north

TAMPA — The Downtowner may be heading to Tampa Heights — but not until Oct. 1.That’s because the nonprofit Tampa Downtown Partnership this week won initial City Council approval to expand into Tampa Heights."Tampa Heights is becoming an important gat...
Published: 02/23/18

Tampa lawyer gets 27 months in federal prison for insider trading

Tampa lawyer Walter "Chet’’ Little was sentenced this week to 27 months in federal prison for engaging in an insider trading scheme that reaped him and a friend profits totaling nearly $1 million.According to federal authorities, Little accessed comp...
Published: 02/23/18
More companies are cutting ties with gun lobby as #BoycottNRA movement gains steam

More companies are cutting ties with gun lobby as #BoycottNRA movement gains steam

Three major companies — Enterprise Holdings, First National Bank of Omaha, and the cybersecurity giant Symantec — have ended co-branding partnerships with the National Rifle Association as a #BoycottNRA social media movement picks up steam.Enterprise...
Published: 02/23/18
Citi to refund $330 Million to credit card customers it overcharged

Citi to refund $330 Million to credit card customers it overcharged

Citigroup is preparing to issue $330 million in refunds after the bank discovered it had overcharged nearly 2 million credit card customers on their annual interest rates, a spokeswoman said Friday.The bank, which has about 150 million credit card ac...
Published: 02/23/18
Girl Scouts camp sold to member of Tampa’s Lykes family

Girl Scouts camp sold to member of Tampa’s Lykes family

ODESSA — The 63-year-old lakeside summer camp had no air conditioning or electricity. Cabin floors were often covered in grime, and cobwebs clung to the windows.But under new ownership, the 18.6 acres of Florida woods known as Camp Scoutcrest to memb...
Published: 02/23/18
BB&T cites ‘technical issue’ in outage affecting customers

BB&T cites ‘technical issue’ in outage affecting customers

Millions of BB&T customers were unable to access their accounts after a service outage which the bank blames on an equipment malfunction. The Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based bank posted a statement on its Twitter page saying the problem persiste...
Published: 02/23/18
Realtors are ‘every 10 feet’ in Florida but more want in the business

Realtors are ‘every 10 feet’ in Florida but more want in the business

ST. PETERSBURG — Tired of working as a yacht captain, Pancho Jiminez decided to get into real estate even though he knows it’s a highly competitive field in Florida."Realtors are every 10 feet around here," he says.Nonetheless, Jiminez is among 30 st...
Published: 02/23/18
Winn-Dixie sells 8 stores after report says owner could close 200 locations

Winn-Dixie sells 8 stores after report says owner could close 200 locations

A week after Bloomberg reported that Southeastern Grocers — the Jacksonville retailer that owns Winn-Dixie and other chains — could be closing up to 200 stores, the company announced it was selling off eight of its Louisiana locations.Texas’ Brooksh...
Published: 02/23/18