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Internal Docs Show Human Intervention at Almost Every Stage Of Facebook's News Operation (theguardian.com) 215

More evidence has surfaced to support Gawker's two recent reports that claimed editors manipulate the trending news and a few other aspects on Facebook. The Guardian, citing leaked documents it obtained, reports that the topics one sees on Facebook are determined on a number of factors including "engagement, timeliness, Pages you've liked and your location." From the report: But the documents show that the company relies heavily on the intervention of a small editorial team to determine what makes its "trending module" headlines -- the list of news topics that shows up on the side of the browser window on Facebook's desktop version. The company backed away from a pure-algorithm approach in 2014 after criticism that it had not included enough coverage of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, in users' feeds. The guidelines show human intervention -- and therefore editorial decisions -- at almost every stage of Facebook's trending news operation, a team that at one time was as few as 12 people.Sam Biddle of Gawker, wrote: Never trust what a company tells you, on/off record -- FB straight up lied to Recode last year. He adds: unless they're under oath a company like Facebook has every incentive to lie about how it operates. It's not illegal to lie to a reporter!"

Update: 05/12 20:49 GMT by M : Facebook has published a blog post in which it explains how Trending Topics on its platform works. The company insists that there is no discrimination against sources of any political origin.
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Internal Docs Show Human Intervention at Almost Every Stage Of Facebook's News Operation

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  • by RevDisk ( 740008 ) on Thursday May 12, 2016 @12:54PM (#52099643) Journal
    They're not exactly the highest professional or unbiased quasi news entity either.
    • non sequitur (Score:5, Insightful)

      by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Thursday May 12, 2016 @01:20PM (#52099873)

      Are you attempting to imply that they lied about Facebook? Are you attempting to claim that Facebook lying to customers has no impact? Are you trying to claim that because one person did something wrong they can never point out that another did something wrong? Are you trying to claim that Facebook is innocent? What is the point, perhaps simply a cheap attempt at karma whoring?

    • by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Thursday May 12, 2016 @01:30PM (#52099955)

      Yeah, but they did this one right. They broke the story but held back evidence; just enough to make headlines but leave room for plausible denials. Naturally Facebook categorically denied everything. Boom; leaked editorial guidelines published; oh look, editors everywhere. "Blacklists." "Injection."

      It will be interesting to see their response to the Senate. Particularly if they maintain records of what got blacklisted and injected.

      And there has never been as much love for the `rights' of private corporations — or Fakebook in particular — on Slashdot. Watching you people scatter in the light is really amazing.

      • Yeah, but they did this one right. They broke the story but held back evidence; just enough to make headlines but leave room for plausible denials. Naturally Fox Newscategorically denied everything. Boom; leaked editorial guidelines published; oh look, editors everywhere. "Blacklists." "Injection." FTFY.

        Seriously, getting your news from FB or Fox, might just be confirmation bias bubble world.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      All news sources are biased. If FB had said Trending Topics was really just news articles selected by some Ivy League trained journalism majors there wouldn't be a scandal. The problem is that they claimed their news reflected user interests, when it actually was more like the New York Times

      • The problem is that they claimed their news reflected user interests,

        Where did they make that claim?

        • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Thursday May 12, 2016 @03:24PM (#52100813)

          The problem is that they claimed their news reflected user interests,

          Where did they make that claim?

          I dunno, but they need to get over to Fox News so they can learn how to do the news fair and balanced.

        • And, why is it so shocking that humans are editing the news feeds? The shocking thing would be if they weren't involved at all. From Gutenburg through Walter Cronkite, news was 100% human edited.

          • And, why is it so shocking that humans are editing the news feeds? The shocking thing would be if they weren't involved at all. From Gutenburg through Walter Cronkite, news was 100% human edited.

            Absolutely. I don't know why it seems desirable to have an algorithm picking what news we see, anyway. Algorithms can't make moral decisions, and if they were deleting right-wing news sources, clearly they were making moral decisions.

    • They have an important role completely abdicated by the few remaining (any?) independent news organizations: Discomforting the Comfortable without favor nor tact.

      Look at Brazil right now: right-wing party couldn't win fairly, so turned to their propaganda arm to foment false unrest against the elected government, while totally covering up the abject corruption of those leading the impeachment. But the US isn't too far away from that, TBH, with four or five corporations controlling ~80% of all 'news' outle
      • They have an important role completely abdicated by the few remaining (any?) independent news organizations: Discomforting the Comfortable without favor nor tact.

        SRSLY? This is FaceBook we are talking about, not a News organizations.

        What's next, demanding that Blogs post dissenting viewpoints so that there is no "bias"?

        If Facebook decides to show only (insert any political group here) flavored News, they have the right to do so.

  • by D.McG. ( 3986101 ) on Thursday May 12, 2016 @12:56PM (#52099669)
    Facebook can place on their website whatever the hell they like. They are not a monopoly subject to government oversight. Facebook will not be testifying before a committee on this manner.
    • Facebook can place on their website whatever the hell they like. They are not a monopoly subject to government oversight. Facebook will not be testifying before a committee on this manner.

      Just like you're allowed to yell "Fire!!" in a crowded movie theater.

      • by D.McG. ( 3986101 )
        The lack of a conservative article being posted on a particular website is NOT the same as inciting panic in a crowded room.
        • The lack of a conservative article being posted on a particular website is NOT the same as inciting panic in a crowded room.

          My point is that you cannot just post anything you want without the potential for consequence. I'm not saying that Facebook did or did not do anything illegal though it certainly sounds like they have been unethical. Congress is free to investigate all they want and to subpoena anyone they want from Facebook. Whether or not Facebook chooses to participate is up to them. Whether this is a proper use of congressional time and money is, of course, a different question all together.

      • Just like you're allowed to yell "Fire!!" in a crowded movie theater.

        Exactly. Note that even the case where the whole "shouting fire in a crowded theatre" thing came from included the keyword (usually left out) "FALSELY", as in in "falsely shouting fire in a crowded theatre".

        And never mind that the case in question (where the "falsely shouting" was not the object of the case, but an example of a type of speech that might not be protected), they decided that the First Amendment protected speech of that sor

  • Napoleon (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SeattleLawGuy ( 4561077 ) on Thursday May 12, 2016 @01:03PM (#52099729)

    Napoleon was the best general in the world because he bought the Newspapers. Propaganda is a weapon of war and a way to shape society and opinion.

    Manipulating trending topics is essentially a violation of the neutrality that people expect from their data providers. (And that we require from common carriers. Facebook is basically a common carrier at this point--how many hundreds of millions of messages, articles, advertisements, events, etc... go through Facebook?)

    • Re:Napoleon (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Comboman ( 895500 ) on Thursday May 12, 2016 @01:28PM (#52099933)
      Facebook is a social network/farm simulator. Anyone who relies on it for their news deserves what they get.
    • Napoleon was the best general in the world because he bought the Newspapers.

      He was the best general because of his military genius. Leading an army has nothing to do with newspapers. If you're saying he was the best statesman, now that's something else.

    • Napoleon was the best general in the world because he bought the Newspapers.

      Where did you get this from?

      Is this one of those glib cloying memes and false quotes shared on facebook?

      Or are you just confusing the real Napoleon (who beat the shit out of all reactionaries) with his pathetic nephew, Napoleon III? -- they have as much in common as Odessa, TX with the Black Sea city & port.

  • by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Thursday May 12, 2016 @01:06PM (#52099755)
    If you think FB is unfairly biased, just buy myspace and turn it into Fox News.
    • If you think FB is unfairly biased, just buy myspace and turn it into Fox News.

      You win the Internet today.

  • Never mind their "Trending Topics" garbage, which I completely ignore anyway; what the heck his driving their "People you might know" friend suggestions?

    I don't know any of those people and I don't want to know them, so fuck off facebook.

    • Never mind their "Trending Topics" garbage, which I completely ignore anyway; what the heck his driving their "People you might know" friend suggestions?

      I don't know any of those people and I don't want to know them, so fuck off facebook.

      I've never hit the trending topics crap either. But some of the "people you may know" have been downright scary in their accuracy, not that I particularly want to friend any of them. And some had NO friends in common with me, yet I knew them IRL (like my dental hygienist of all people!)

    • by Whibla ( 210729 )

      I have wondered this too, and, based on a couple of names that popped up on my list recently, I have come up with a very simple explanation:

      They appear on your 'suggested' list because they have visited / looked at your Facebook page. Although they didn't send you a friend invite they probably searched for you by name and chose to view your particular page from all the others similarly named, so Facebook's algorithms, (mostly) correctly, conclude they know you, and vice versa.

      Also known as 'how to tell when

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Thursday May 12, 2016 @01:09PM (#52099783)
    ... and a public company has an obligation to its shareholders to make as much money as possible.

    .
    Facebook is an entertainment company, not a news company. Facebook's business goal is to ~encourage~ its users to visit the site as often as possible and stay as long as possible.

    It is completely and wholly Facebook's prerogative how Facebook accomplishes its business goals, with legal parameters, of course.

    So long as Facebook is not breaking the law, I say that the complainers should take their whining somewhere else.

    And to those idiots in Congress who are wasting public money on this, why in the world are you messing with facebook when the good people of Flint, MI still cannot drink the water?

    • by halivar ( 535827 )

      Because the committee in question is about national media, and not local Michigan politics? And since when to Slashdot get so laissez faire about public advertising?

    • Facebook promised it's customers that it was providing an unbiased aggregation service based on customers posting stories. Since they actually silenced stories they did not want to trend, and inserted those they did, while claiming "we are just an unbiased aggregate", they broke the law.

      Propaganda is a huge issue which Congress _should_ be trying to address. Some of these actions are treasonous (word chosen intentionally, investigate it's use).

      You not caring that people are being brainwashed and that peop

      • by Holi ( 250190 )
        I am trying to find a place where Facebook has ever said they were just an unbiased aggregate. Can you please cite your source of the quote "we are just an unbiased aggregate"?
        • You might also try to find where claiming one is an unbiased aggregator is in itself against the law.

          Might I remind you of the Fox News slogan? Here 'tis: "Fair and Balanced"

          Now please excuse me, I have to go wash my mouth out with something less toxic. Like cyanide.

        • by s.petry ( 762400 )

          The name of the Facebook service is "What's Trending". You really don't need anything else, because you can find all of their advertisements based on those words plus "Facebook". If you were looking for some exact verbiage, inventing alternative dialogue requirements does not make a lie the truth.

      • I love how the party that got rid of the Fairness Doctrine for Fox News is now up in arms that a *website* might be reluctant to immediately publish stories from sources known for spreading fevered hallucinations and debunked rumors that inevitably need retractions or corrections. It is not incumbent on FB to "fix" this; it can be easily fixed if your news outlet stops producing stores that repeatedly turn out to be bullshit.

        Unlike the world I grew up in, It seems that simple editorial discretion is now for

        • The real world and news is not purely black or purely white, and your claim that it can always be true/false is simply ludicrous. Just as ludicrous as your misrepresentation of what Facebook did and does with "news". Facebook does not make news, they provide stories to people allegedly based on what people are interested in. That is their sales pitch for people to use their aggregate service, and it's even named "WHAT'S TRENDING". Quite different from "WHAT WE WENT TO TREND PRETEND IT DOES".

          That said, w

          • The real world and news is not purely black or purely white, and your claim that it can always be true/false is simply ludicrous.

            You may not believe this, but there is such a thing as an actual fact. There are such things as true and false. Once you lose sight of that and mindlessly equivocate between truth and falsehood as if both sides are *always* making equally valid claims, you'll lose your grip on reality.

            That said, when I looked at your post history I started to smell a sockpuppet.

            ...says the guy who didn't notice that my Slashdot ID is less than one third of his.

            Do you always do opposition research on anyone who disagrees with you on a message board? (I actually agree with most of your posts, but I al

            • by s.petry ( 762400 )

              News is "fact" because you said so? Let us put that theory to the test.

              The second amendment is great. True/False? Guns should be outlawed. True/False?

              False rape allegations harm society. True/False?

              Immigration is good. True/False? Immigration is bad. True/False?

              Miley Cyrus is hot. True/False?

              Spurs lose a game at home. OMFG, we found one!

              Your Slashdot UID means nothing to me. You presented a blanket statement which amounts to complete horse shit. Do I always do research on people I respond to? N

              • These statements are opinions:
                • The 2nd Amendment is / isn't great
                • Guns should / shouldn't be outlawed
                • Immigration is good / bad
                • Miley Cyrus is / isn't hot

                News looks like this:

                • Spurs lose a game at home
                • Second Amendment concerns stall bill in Congress
                • It's now legal to take a gun into a church in 25 states
                • New study finds immigrants statistically likely to carry Ebola
                • Miley Cyrus wins beauty prize
                • Obama was born in Kenya

                Notice how these can be classified into true or false statements. There is such a thing as re

                • by s.petry ( 762400 )

                  You either live on a different planet or you never watch any "News" at all. News is filled to the brim with _opinion_, all the time and everywhere. I looked at 9 (CNN, NBC, CBS, ESPN, and even the BBC) sites for stories on the Spurs and _EVERY_SINGLE_ONE_ contained opinions. Opinions like why they lost, how they lost, how they could have won, what Duncan should do, speculation on his retirement, how well the officials did, what fans should expect next, and so on, etc...

                  Hate to break the news to you, but

                  • You either live on a different planet or you never watch any "News" at all. News is filled to the brim with _opinion_, all the time and everywhere.

                    Then it isn't news, and you should keep that in mind when you watch that crap. Actual news was once much easier to find. During the seventies I was living on this planet, so I should know.

                    • by s.petry ( 762400 )

                      So that your idiocy does not harm an innocent bystander, you are attempting to incorrectly equate news with fact. No such equality exists and your claim is complete horse shit. "News" since the advent of "News" has been a presentation of facts and opinions based on those facts. Journalists working within the credo attempted to present all possible angles of opinion, but that credo has been dead and buried for decades.

                      Continued attempts to paint an alternative reality is simply trolling. Which at this po

            • You may not believe this, but there is such a thing as an actual fact.

              So, for example, you know that you are not discussing actual facts when you talk about the so-called "Fairness Doctrine," right? That's fine, you can BS if you want, but try being a bit less finger-waggy about what other people say if you're going to spin like that. Especially when it's so transparent.

      • by tsotha ( 720379 )

        Facebook promised it's customers that it was providing an unbiased aggregation service based on customers posting stories. Since they actually silenced stories they did not want to trend, and inserted those they did, while claiming "we are just an unbiased aggregate", they broke the law.

        That's a stretch. News organizations of all types decide which stories to run and which stories to ignore. The only difference between Facebook and, say, The New York Times is Facebook claimed the process is algorithmic wh

    • a public company has an obligation to its shareholders to make as much money as possible.

      That is completely wrong, and it's sad that so many people like yourself think that is at all what the shareholder/company relationship is about.

      The company only has a duty to run the company well, which means whatever the company wants it to mean. You could have a company whose primary goal is, for example, to use only recycled material to build birdhouses. They would make more money by using cheaper material, but th

      • Hate to break it to you but this is false. Since the 90s shareholders can sue the senior executives for failing to maximize the profit of the company. There are certain types of incorporation that will allow you to bypass this, such as incorporating as a B corp as opposed to an S corp, but this is not common.

        • Hate to break it to you but this is false. Since the 90s shareholders can sue the senior executives for failing to maximize the profit of the company.

          Actually, that policy really dates back to at least 1919 [wikipedia.org], though you're not quite interpreting it correctly.

          That case, along with more recent court rulings, basically affirm that directors and executives have a duty to the corporation and to the shareholders, which does generally involve a focus on profit. But legal precedent usually gives rather broad discretion to directors as long as they don't try to strongly usurp the will of the shareholders overall. For example, most companies could make more pro

        • I know the eBay case you are thinking of but that does not mean what you are saying it does... remember that the case was about a GIANT stakeholder (eBay) disagreeing with how Craigslist wants to run the company. When all of the largest shareholders are in alignment the company can be run however they like.

          Most companies own the large majority of public shares or know the people that do, so the end effect is they do what they want.

          Also consider that the idea of "maximizing shareholder VALUE" does not have

        • by tsotha ( 720379 )

          Hate to break it to you but this is false. Since the 90s shareholders can sue the senior executives for failing to maximize the profit of the company.

          You can sue for anything. Doesn't mean you'll win.

          The corporate goals are spelled out in the corporation's Articles of Incorporation. It's not true, as a general rule, the officers of the corporation must put profits above all else. In Facebook's case you'd have to read the relevant documents.

          Beyond that, courts give corporate officers wide latitude whe

    • Spot on. This will end up being another Congress grandstanding effort. Meanwhile, the real issues (one of which you point out) go unresolved. Who gives a shit about what Facebook puts on their news page? They are obviously trying to sell a political agenda, not unlike every other news outlet on the planet. If you don't like what Facebook puts in their news feed or you think they are untrustworthy then stop using it. Simple.

      • Who gives a shit about what Facebook puts on their news page?

        Well, when one of the largest communications platforms in the world tells its enormous number of users that it's using a process driven by its users postings to identify what that huge number of people find to be important, and it turns out that they're actually lying, and are manipulating that collection of information for purely partisan/ideological reasons at the expense of half of their US audience ... then maybe BOTH halves of that audience would like to know that they're being deceived, don't you thi

        • I'm not disputing that what Facebook did was wrong. They have, once again, deceived their users. This kind of behavior goes way back. Which is precisely why I don't give a shit what they put on their page. I don't trust them in the least and I refuse to use Facebook. If, after all this, others continue to use it then shame on them. How many times does that sleazeball Zuckerberg have to pull these kind of stunts before people wake up?

          • The point is that it doesn't matter that you don't use FB. You should still care about this because they have an enormous footprint on our culture at this point. It's not congressional grandstanding to expose active, deliberate deceit in that area, especially as it relates to the ongoing public discourse that shapes the recurring renewal of our elected government's legislative and executive branches. It actually matters that they're trying to suppress one half of the country's communication while bolstering
    • by tsotha ( 720379 )
      Why would you want Congress to try to micromanage the thousands of water districts around the country? What a terrible idea. Even if you believe this is something the federal government should be addressing, this kind of stuff is supposed to be dealt with by the executive branch bureaucracies.
  • I don't trust any single source for news. Why would anyone think that they were getting unfiltered news from a website like Facebook?

    I know folks are going to have to report to a Congressional Committee over this, but why is this a story? NBC leans heavily liberal, Fox leans heavily conservative, CNN does something which only people in airports actually see.

    Facebook may get sued by those who pay for advertisements on their website, which may be fair, based on the wording of contracts.

    Is it just because Ga

  • Sooo (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ryanrule ( 1657199 ) on Thursday May 12, 2016 @01:33PM (#52099989)
    The outrage here is humans taking the jobs of algorithms?
  • Hold on a second, this whole controversy suggests that people actually pay attention to "Trending" on Facebook. Whenever I see this mentioned I have to remind myself that this "feature" even exists. Then I remember it is that section on Facebook that has all of those annoying "headlines" that never have anything I am even vaguely interested in.
    • by J053 ( 673094 )

      I use FBPurity [fbpurity.com], which can be set to completely hide the "Trending" sidebar (as well as a whole lot of other annoying things about the FB desktop interface), so this is a non-issue. And, since most people (I suspect) read FB on mobile devices where there is no "Trending" sidebar, it's a non-issue for them, too.

  • Seriously... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Thursday May 12, 2016 @01:40PM (#52100027)

    Anyone who uses Facebook as their primary news source deserves all they get.

    • Anyone who uses Facebook as their primary news source deserves all they get.

      Including the same ability to vote in elections, I guess.

      I really wish everyone had the time, energy, will, wisdom, and discernment when voting, to make Facebook's editorial decisions irrelevant.

    • s/ as their primary news source//

  • The guidelines show human intervention -- and therefore editorial decisions -- at almost every stage of Facebook's trending news operation, a team that at one time was as few as 12 people.

    My god, next there'll be humans writing the articles! Where will the madness end?!

  • a) am not surprised, and b) don't care.
  • Algorithm only:
    - Ten coolest cat photos of 2015
    - Scientists prove vaccines cause autism
    - The global warming hoax debunked.
    - See celebrity sex tapes online!
    - Obama's secret communist manifesto revealed.
    - 30 Signs That An Eastern European Girl Isn’t Relationship Material
    - Russia's nuclear ambitions and how to prepare with our five-gallon soup buckets.
    - Is the dress blue or gold?
    - Why the homosexual mafia is after YOUR child!

    There's a reason facebook has a human team moderating the feed. Without it you'd

  • Let good algorithms work and they provide the users results from their input. This may result in things like Tay, or it may result in actually getting results from the filter bubble you're trying to build.
    Both does not support injecting sponsored / endorsed content. So some human needs to add this, like paying for ads and selecting a target group. For political action, some facebook employees need to fix the trends.

    Twitter at least adds a "sponsored by" to bought "trends" (not only tweets), facebook is not

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