To address allegations of anti-conservative bias in its trending news topics, Facebook has published more transparent details about how and where it sources news. Included is a list of 1,000 websites and publications that Facebook thinks are worth checking.
On first inspection, the list looks exactly like a vanilla cross-section of the biggest news publications, organized by category. Facebook is publishing the list in an effort to do away with allegations of bias, specifically that some sources were “blacklisted,” while other stories were “artificially injected” into the Trending News section.
A blog post from Facebook shines an official light on how the service is supposed to work: an algorithm “surfaces” trending topics on Facebook, using a mixture of keyword recognition and an external list of breaking news from those 1,000 trusted sites. Then, a human curator checks the story is true and new, writes up a headline and summary, and places it in the Trending News section. Further links to external stories are then assigned by the algorithm.
That process lines up with a leaked employee manual on the process that The Guardian published earlier today. It’s also a similar process to what Gizmodo originally reported on, although without employees using their power to censor some stories.
Facebook’s release today goes some way towards understanding how its part-human, part-machine breaking news process works. But it doesn’t address the allegations of bias — that has always been a question of under-the-table manipulation or misbehaving employees. Hopefully, the Senate committee questioning into the topic will help clear that up.