Should We Care if Facebook Has an Anti-Conservative Bias?

I am a die-hard liberal. I spend my days raging about LGBT rights and reproductive health care access, supporting higher taxes to fund improved government social safety net programs and voting for politicians who support environmental protection and workers’ rights. I often foam at the mouth after hearing the claptrap that comes out of some Fox News commentators.

Still, when I learned that Facebook may be suppressing conservative stories from appearing on its “trending” feed, I was very disappointed.

Former employees recently told tech blog Gizmodo that they routinely stopped topics like the Conservative Political Action ConferenceMitt Romney and Rand Paul from popping up on Facebook’s sidebar of popular stories. At the same time, those workers claimed that they injected less-talked-about subjects like Charlie Hebdo and Black Lives Matter as to suggest that they were trending.

“It was absolutely bias. We were doing it subjectively. It just depends on who the curator is and what time of day it is,” a former worker tells Gizmodo. “Every once in awhile a Red State or conservative news source would have a story. But we would have to go and find the same story from a more neutral outlet that wasn’t as biased.”

Provided these claims are true – Facebook says they aren’t — we should all be concerned about the suppression of conservative content. It is paramount that we be exposed to a broad swath of fact-based opinions, even if they differ from our own, so we can make informed judgments about the world around us.

According to the Pew Research Center, more than 60 percent of Americans get their news from Facebook. The content of this news depends on the pages users choose to like and follow, of course, but also what the social media community is supposedly discussing.

The trending feed should reflect these criteria, in theory making it one of the few spaces on Facebook with content that may conflict with our own personal views.

A study published in Science last year noted that the content we view on the site usually aligns with our own political ideologies. We can blame Facebook’s algorithms to a point, but soon we have to look in the mirror.

We’re more likely to click on stories we agree with, rather than those with divergent messages. And our own personal choices limit the diverse viewpoints we’re exposed to more than the technology, researchers say.

Some may argue that certain opinions need to be suppressed because they’re actively hurtful or factually inaccurate. I’d like to make clear that my argument for inclusive information excludes bigotry — which typically relies on ignorance to target and cut down specific groups of people — and misinformation.

Conservatives, liberals and all of us in between are guilty of contributing to the Facebook echo chamber. Political polarization has even led to stagnation in Congress.

Social media clearly reflects that inability to listen to diverse opinions. And Facebook’s own biases don’t help.

85 comments

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill12 months ago

Why is it that only liberals have free speech? What happened to having a good debate of ideas?

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Marie W.
Marie Wabout a year ago

Plenty of conservative pages they can go to.

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Donn M.
Donn Mabout a year ago

It is rather refreshing to read a liberal opinion that actually promotes belief in the importance of fairness and condemns manipulation of data in order to introduce bias of any sort. I'd like to believe that most people prefer not to be deceived or mislead this way. I imagine Facebook users are a roughly equal mix of conservatives and liberals, so if Facebook employees are being dishonest in this manner they should be replaced with people who exhibit more integrity.

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeldabout a year ago

A new UK poll supports the preception of left-wing bias.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/may/12/people-think-there-is-more-leftwing-news-on-facebook-says-study

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Leonard T.
Leonard Tabout a year ago

In actual fact my experience of Facebook is that after clicking on links posted by friends, additional "related" links will appear underneath the original. These invariably include irrelevant nonsense from far right sites like Breitbart, Red State or worse so if FB truly is interested in suppressing right wing drivel they aren't doing a very good job of it.

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Leonard T.
Leonard Tabout a year ago

This is more of the one great strength of the right, working the refs. The right embraces completely partisan propaganda, devoid of facts or reason while decrying the "bias" of the other side. Weekly Standard writer, Matt Labash, in an interview with the CJR some years back conceded that right wingers reject in their own media the standards of fairness, accuracy, and unbiased coverage that they demand from the so called "liberal media. As Labash put it "It's a great way to have your cake and eat it too. Criticize other people for not being objective. Be as subjective as you want. It's a great little racket." Rich Bond, former chair of the Republican Party termed the strategy "work the refs", a sports term meaning to put pressure on the referees / umpires by suggesting they're biased towards your opponent.

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeldabout a year ago

Peggy B.,
Some people just want to hear the news that satisfies their beliefs (whether it be liberal, conservative, etc.). They are less concerned with the truth - especially if it goes against their own beliefs. Most of us would rather see and hear more factual representations of the news, regardless of our own beliefs. While biased news may make one feel good inside, but it just blinds them to reality, and delays the inevitable revelation - not to mention make it more painful, when it does occur.

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Peggy B.
Peggy Babout a year ago

C Bradley- This is about facebook letting conservative news into their 'trending' news feed. You're correct about it being all over FB, but thats' from individual people .

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Peggy B.
Peggy Babout a year ago

No, they should not be blocking conservative news. If they don't agree or it is factually wrong then they should add an editorial if they like. Radicals in both directions have minority followings, but deserve to be heard even if we don't agree with it.

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