Facebook trending is not biased according to findings from the company. In a statement officials at the company said they found “no evidence of systematic political bias” in how news stories are chosen for its Trending Topics features.
Despite those findings, the company is still making changes to its trending topics feature. It will no longer use outside sites to determine what stories are relevant for Facebook’s users.
Facebook issued its response following an inquiry from the Senate Commerce Committee.
“Our analysis indicated that the rates of approval of conservative and liberal topics are virtually identical in Trending Topics. Moreover, we were unable to substantiate any of the specific allegations of politically-motivated suppression of subjects or sources, as reported in the media. To the contrary, we confirmed that most of those subjects were in fact included as trending topics on multiple occasions,” said Facebook’s general counsel Colin Stretch in the letter.
The company did say that an individual contractor could have been biased.
“Despite the findings of our investigation, it is impossible to fully exclude the possibility that, over the years of the feature’s existence, a specific reviewer took isolated actions with an improper motive,” said Stretch.
Senator John Thune, chairman of the Commerce Committee, had recently asked how topics are chosen.
Stretch met personally with Thune last week to discuss the matter. Thun said Facebook’s process relied more on human judgment than previously thought.
“Facebook has recognized the limitations of efforts to keep information systems fully free from potential bias, which lends credibility to its findings,” Thune said in a statement.
“While the committee remains open to new information on this matter, transparency — not regulation — remains the goal, so I thank the company for its efforts to acknowledge relevant facts and its recognition of a continuing need to transparently address relevant user questions,” he added.
The social network will no longer rely on lists of external sites to determine what is trending. It will also no longer implement an “importance level” of a subject based on how many of the top media companies are covering it.
Facebook will also provide content reviewers with additional anti-bias training and will add more oversight to the review team.