Following a Gizmodo article that claims they regularly suppress conservative news, Facebook has released its guidelines for Trending Topics in an effort to fight the allegations.
Justin Osofsky, Vice President of Global Operations, said in a blog post detailing the process behind the Trending Topics, “The Trending Topics team is governed by a set of guidelines meant to ensure a high-quality product, consistent with Facebook’s deep commitment to being a platform for people of all viewpoints. Our goal has always been to deliver a valuable experience for the people who use our service. The guidelines demonstrate that we have a series of checks and balances in place to help surface the most important popular stories, regardless of where they fall on the ideological spectrum. Facebook does not allow or advise our reviewers to discriminate against sources of any political origin, period.”
Osofsky also details the three steps related to Trending Stories. First, potential topics are identified by an algorithm and then reviewed by the Trending Topics team to ensure that they are in fact newsworthy. “For example, the topic “#lunch” is talked about during lunch every day around the world, but will not be a trending topic.” The editors then do a brief write-up on the topic, categorize it, and look to see if any of ten specific news outlets are covering the topic as breaking news. If it is, the topic is given an elevated status, making it more likely to be seen by millions of Facebook users. The Trending Topics list itself is also determined by an algorithm and is unique to the user. The ten news outlets are BBC News, BuzzFeed News, CNN, Fox News, The Guardian, NBC News, the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.
Osofsky also released the internal guidelines that the Trending Topics team uses.
The ten news publications are also used to determine if a story is a “major story.” There are four levels of importance for trending stories. Normal, national story, major story, and “nuclear.” If a story is leading all ten of the outlets, it is a major story. Nuclear-level stories must be approved by a product-lead before given the designation.
Osofsky also writes of efforts to prevent an employee’s bias from leaking through, “Lastly, we regularly audit the work of members of our review team to ensure that it complies with the guidelines. Violating the guidelines is a fireable offense.”