Does Facebook suppress conservative news and views?

by on May 10, 2016 at 12:40 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Education, Uncategorized, Web/Tech | Permalink

That’s the hullaballoo of the day (NYT here):

Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential “trending” news section, according to a former journalist who worked on the project. This individual says that workers prevented stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the highly-influential section, even though they were organically trending among the site’s users.

That’s not exactly what I would have suppressed, but I can’t say I am broken up about this.  Most media bias in journalism is demand-driven, and I suspect this feature of the article selection and elevation “algorithm” is perceived by Facebook as demand-driven as well.  Overall I think of Twitter as radicalizing, and Facebook as calming and connecting.  The “censored” right wing sources don’t fit the chummy, nostalgic socializing mood so well, and therefore Facebook wanted to keep them away.  A clear minority is sufficiently interested in those stories to get them trending initially, but that’s not the overall image Facebook wants to present to either its marginal or median user.

Maybe such algorithms mean that social ideas are too slow to change, because user demand depends in part on what Facebook pushes.  Right now I’m more worried about American ideas getting worse than American ideas getting better, so a status quo, don’t offend anybody bias I can live with.  And frankly, a lot of right-wing news sources just aren’t very good — I suppress them myself, without any aid from Facebook.

There is also this:

“People stopped caring about Syria,” one former curator said. “[And] if it wasn’t trending on Facebook, it would make Facebook look bad.” That same curator said the Black Lives Matter movement was also injected into Facebook’s trending news module. “Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter,” the individual said. “They realized it was a problem, and they boosted it in the ordering. They gave it preference over other topics. When we injected it, everyone started saying, ‘Yeah, now I’m seeing it as number one’.” This particular injection is especially noteworthy because the #BlackLivesMatter movement originated on Facebook, and the ensuing media coverage of the movement often noted its powerful social media presence.

In those two cases I see the change in coverage as bringing net content gain rather than loss.  The cynical underlying reality is that Facebook does not wish to appear heartless, but does not (yet) have the more subtle manipulative institutions that newspapers and TV stations have developed over decades or even centuries.  They clumsily act in a politically correct manner, without proper institutional camouflage, and now they are being called on it.  They will refine their bias, and make it subtler and harder to criticize, thereby becoming more like most other media outlets.  Ultimately this is more of a social conformity story than a monopoly power dilemma.  I am more worried about pervasive ennui and complacency than the political bias per se.

1 Just Saying May 10, 2016 at 12:53 am

Well, they don’t have a Judith Miller beating the drum to war, so it’s still Facebook +1 relative to traditional “liberal” media.

2 Troll me May 10, 2016 at 1:48 am

Which liberal media? And in which sense “liberal”? It’s hard to imagine that a corporate outlet will be particularly left wing, except to the extent to fill a market demand.

3 pauljones May 10, 2016 at 2:34 am

Frankly your opinion of right wing news sites is irrelevant

4 So Much For Subtlety May 10, 2016 at 2:45 am

I don’t think the right wing news sites are the issue.

If you stand far enough to the Left even the New York Times looks right wing. But you really have to stand far to the Left. That is the issue.

5 Troll me May 10, 2016 at 9:28 am

Yes, I do not take too seriously those who consider NYT to be right wing shills (and absolutely these people exist). Obviously, as a for-profit company, they aren’t going to be endorsing candidates who want a 90% tax rate. I consider NYT to be fairly middle of the road.

There are also those who consider Fox News to be left wing liberal media… although it’s hard to know whether these are real people or paid propagandists who are trying to drive things more in a certain direction.

6 Mark Thorson May 10, 2016 at 12:31 pm

Conservatives should form their own opposite of Facebook. What’s opposite of Facebook? Assbook, of course.

7 So Much For Subtlety May 10, 2016 at 5:03 pm

Mark Thorson May 10, 2016 at 12:31 pm

Conservatives should form their own opposite of Facebook. What’s opposite of Facebook? Assbook, of course.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_South_Butt

8 Mark Thorson May 10, 2016 at 5:10 pm

Yes, you’re right. Assbook would face a lawsuit against a very well-funded opponent.

9 Troll me May 10, 2016 at 9:30 am

That might be relevant if I’d said anything about right wing news sites.

10 David H. May 10, 2016 at 3:01 am

The media is liberal in the sense that very few journalists ever consider voting Republican. But the same is true among professors, artists and (increasingly) employees of the giant tech companies like Facebook, Google and Apple. All of these are now liberal institutions, and are polarizing more all the time. This is the inevitable consequence of the Republican party having decided to abandon any effort to make itself palatable to the people who work in such fields. Granted it’s not many individual voters, but the journalists, artists, professors and Facebookers are collectively the gatekeepers of our most important cultural institutions. Just as their grip on the world is tightening, Republicans are abandoning them.

There is no Dear Leader at Facebook who gets on the campus PA and orders minions to block right wing sites. But by the nature of the job, if you got hired at Facebook, you’re probably smart, xenophilic, politically correct and young. The overlap between the Facebook-job-eligible and today’s Republicans can’t be big. Like Tyler and me, they likely see right wing papers as being low in quality, and demote them because Facebook curates for quality. That’s what you get when you’ve the party that handed all the “culture” workers to your opponents: You let your opponents call the shots on what others see. The fact that there aren’t Republicans at the gates of culture is a huge liability for the GOP.

11 So Much For Subtlety May 10, 2016 at 4:25 am

The mistake here is to think that the Republicans have abandoned the cultural field. Rather politics is downstream from culture. We are simply seeing the results of the Sixties radicals taking over the universities. They were tolerated by the previous generation who were actually liberals. They are not so tolerant.

Having driven conservatives out of university life they have sent their students out to drive the Right out of other fields too.

The West has an intellectual class who hates the majority of their own population. This is not sustainable.

12 Jan May 10, 2016 at 7:10 am

So you disagree about the source of this change, but the relevant question is: Do you agree it makes sense for the GOP to try to evolve and appeal to more people, including those with high intelligence working in academia and the US’s most important industries? If the GOP does nothing, does it fade away, and are you confident something more effective will replace it? Or can it remain the same and pull this out?

13 So Much For Subtlety May 10, 2016 at 7:29 am

I think it is an ethnic divide. The Left is made up of people who came through Ellis Island and continue to hold a grudge against the British origin people who were already in the US. So no, it won’t go away. But also, there is no appeal to someone who hates you on such grounds. They will go on hating you no matter what. So why bother?

I expect that in the end the Democrats will split. They drove out the Southern Whites when the contradictions between them and the Northern Liberals became too great. They are alienating a lot of White working class Democrats. Perhaps Hispanics will split off. But the Republicans will have to become another Christian Democratic Party – illiberal, high taxing, and essentially just the Democrats by another name.

What to do? What should Venezuela’s opposition have done? Chavez’s policies were a disaster. They continued to oppose them because they knew they were a disaster. They lost election after election. How is that working out for Venezuela? That is America’s future.

14 carlolspln May 10, 2016 at 8:19 am

“What to do? What should Venezuela’s opposition have done? Chavez’s policies were a disaster. They continued to oppose them because they knew they were a disaster. They lost election after election. How is that working out for Venezuela? That is America’s future” [SNIP]

Don’t ever leave the USA.

Ever.

15 Kris May 10, 2016 at 8:21 am

@So Much For Subtlety:

The Left is made up of people who came through Ellis Island and continue to hold a grudge against the British origin people who were already in the US.

I’ve been getting the impression (based on observations of not just voting patterns but also a bunch of online comments sections) that the Ellis Island people (or white ethnic, if you will) form the bulk of Trump’s base; sort of left-wing but populist rather than liberal. People with deeper American family trees are, if anything, likely to be either more liberal or more corporatist, in either case being anti-populist and anti-Trump. And I read somewhere that Staten Island has been Trump’s strongest county to date.

Do you think I’m wrong about this?

16 MOFO May 10, 2016 at 9:24 am

@Jan “Do you agree it makes sense for the GOP to try to evolve and appeal to more people, including those with high intelligence working in academia and the US’s most important industries?”

Only if you think the people the GOP is currently appealing to dont matter. The GOP is in a bit of an either/or position. Either appeal to the people who have put them in the position they are currently in or appeal to a new group of people and alienate the ones they appeal to now.

Judging by the GOP’s success at the state and local level, id say that abandoning those who brought them to power in the hopes that they might appeal to the Dem’s core constituency more than the Dems do is not a good strategy.

17 anon May 10, 2016 at 9:33 am

“I think it is an ethnic divide.”

One of the right’s problems is this self-fulfilling prophesy.

That the left doesn’t see it this way is a competitive advantage.

18 Jan May 10, 2016 at 11:46 am

@MOFO that’s a good point. Of course, they could try to split the difference by changing position on a few issues to attract more people, but potentially alienating some. It may be that the alienated ones have nowhere else to go, so they stick around, somewhat unhappily.

I agree with you that the GOP has done great at the state and local level. In those places they are forced to govern at a very nuts and bolts level and usually meet a minimum level of competence. I think the national stage is where the GOP suffers, in part because doesn’t tolerate much ideological diversity or pragmatism at that level.

19 MOFO May 10, 2016 at 12:28 pm

@Jan, id say they are doing ok at the federal level as well, even if the elite find them repellent. The exception to this is the presidency, which they seem to be struggling with, but they hold majorities in the house and senate, not a bad outcome all things considering.

Think of it as a kind of downside to democracy, stupid people’s vote counts the same as smart people. Or, if you prefer a less arrogant phrasing, people who value things you do not count the same as those who value what you find important.

20 Anoni May 10, 2016 at 1:32 pm

I see the ethnic split as true, but the exact opposite. It looks to me like the Ellis Island people are getting over their suspicion of the scots-irish and making common cause. This election is about the descendants of the Puritans and Quakers picking up enough recent immigrants + blacks to enforce their worldview on everybody else.

In other words, its the same way we have always been fighting between scots-irish and Yankees, just with a different coalition of ethnic groups picked up for the ride with the two main combatants.

21 The Original D May 10, 2016 at 3:13 pm

The vast majority of Facebook, Google and Apple employees is white and Asian men. Are those the Ellis Islanders you’re talking about?

22 So Much For Subtlety May 10, 2016 at 4:46 pm

Kris May 10, 2016 at 8:21 am

the Ellis Island people (or white ethnic, if you will) form the bulk of Trump’s base; sort of left-wing but populist rather than liberal.

Sure. I said that the Democrats are in the process of alienating their White working class voter base. The Reagan Democrats. This seems to be especially true in the North-East. The contradictions between FDR’s success in bringing both North-Eastern liberals, including Jews and Blacks, together with Southern Dixiecrats failed by the time of LBJ and the Vietnam War. The Democrats chose the North-Eastern liberals. They are now having to choose again as they don’t seem to be able to unite identity politics and the White working class. Especially the married.

15 anon May 10, 2016 at 9:33 am

That the left doesn’t see it this way is a competitive advantage.

It is a problem for the Right and it is likely to be self-fulfilling, but the Left most certainly does see it this way. The Republicans have always been the party of the status quo. The Democrats the party of racially-based resentment against the status quo. So they have always made explicitly racist arguments against the people who run the country. They have no other schtick. And it works very well.

16 Jan May 10, 2016 at 11:46 am

Of course, they could try to split the difference by changing position on a few issues to attract more people, but potentially alienating some. It may be that the alienated ones have nowhere else to go, so they stick around, somewhat unhappily.

There is nothing that is going to make many liberals vote for the Republicans. There is nothing that will make Blacks vote Republican. Look at the Obama years. Blacks have suffered enormously. Only made Obama more popular.

The Republicans have tried it your way with Republican-lite candidates. It has not worked. McCain did not win them over. Nor did Romney. Why would they? The Democrats can pander more than Republicans can.

I think the national stage is where the GOP suffers, in part because doesn’t tolerate much ideological diversity or pragmatism at that level.

That is amusing. Because the only party that has been driving people out to become more and more ideologically pure is the Democrats. They immolated Howard Dean when he made the common sense claim that they had to appeal to poor Southern Whites. The Blue Dogs have been destroyed. The Democrats won’t tolerate someone who isn’t 100% behind partial birth abortion these days.

Meanwhile as Trump (and Schwarzenegger before him to cite the most obvious example) shows how diverse the Republicans are.

19 The Original D May 10, 2016 at 3:13 pm

The vast majority of Facebook, Google and Apple employees is white and Asian men. Are those the Ellis Islanders you’re talking about?

I am not sure Mark Zuckerberg’s ancestors came over in the Mayflower. So yes, they are the Ellis Islanders I am talking about. People write books mocking the people of Kansas for voting their values. Well the three richest communities in America are Jewish Americans, Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans. Asian Americans flirted with the Republicans but have gone solidly Left. They too are not voting with their wallet but with their values. And why not? It is a bit of a problem for many Jews because the Democrats are slowly embracing the Palestinians. But so far it is not a problem.

23 Religious Reactionary May 10, 2016 at 6:56 am

In several parts of the country there exist communities consisting of religious families that regard themselves as socially conservative and “countercultural”. These communities have a lot more children than the average….

Many of the young people in these communities are well-educated, but the “culture” is not interested in them, and would not hire them in media, or as instructors of non-technical topics …

But “the culture” is starting to flame out and things might be changing soon ..

24 Jan May 10, 2016 at 7:11 am

Mormons are very successful professionally.

25 anon May 10, 2016 at 9:38 am

There are things more obscure than Mormon. Russian Orthodox in central California?

26 Slocum May 10, 2016 at 7:28 am

“But by the nature of the job, if you got hired at Facebook, you’re probably smart, xenophilic, politically correct and young.”

Yes, and no. Facebook hires different categories of workers. The people doing this particular kind of job (those managing the news feeds) would not be techies but rather young liberal arts grads — a completely different group (in personality, background, and outlook) than the software developers.

27 asdf May 10, 2016 at 9:01 am

“There is no Dear Leader at Facebook who gets on the campus PA and orders minions to block right wing sites.”

That is LITERALLY what happened:

“There have been several recent instances of people crossing out ‘black lives matter’ and writing ‘all lives matter’ on the walls” Zuckerberg wrote. “Despite my clear communication at Q&A last week that this was unacceptable, and messages from several other leaders from across the company, this has happened again. I was already very disappointed by this disrespectful behavior before, but after my communication I now consider this malicious as well.”

Zuckerberg encouraged Facebook employees to attend a town hall next week “to educate themselves about what the Black Lives Matter movement is about.”

28 Jamie_NYC May 10, 2016 at 10:50 am

+1 You saved me two minutes needed to write the comment.

29 Troll me May 10, 2016 at 9:39 am

Perhaps right wing communicators call themselves something other than journalists? Perhaps they are more likely to self identify as “political correspondent”, “expert in …”, etc., than “journalist”. The surveys on these questions always focus on people who self identify as a “journalist”, and are not comprehensive of all people who publish in corporate media, nor are they corrected for audience size of the respective outlets.

This whole notion that the monied class or the right wing in general struggles to have their messages communicated just don’t come across to me as particularly plausible. Do you hear anyone complaining that Fox News fails to give enough air time to left wingers?

And, consider the fact that basically all arms of the police state, surveillance state, security state, etc., can hardly be said to be anything other than DEFINITELY leaning right.

The main difference, I argue, is that influence peddlers on the centre and left tend to be more visible.

30 Stephen May 10, 2016 at 10:30 am

The difference is that the Right has Fox News and Talk Radio, the Left has the rest of TV news and most newspapers.

31 Troll me May 10, 2016 at 2:55 pm

I think you define “left” rather differently than I would understand. I generally do not consider abortion, LGBT rights, etc. to be particularly “left/right” in nature. Sticking with economics, I do not believe that there are any corporate media outlets which stray further than slightly left, and even then only some of the time.

32 Boonton May 10, 2016 at 11:05 am

But the same is true among professors, artists and (increasingly) employees of the giant tech companies like Facebook, Google and Apple. All of these are now liberal institutions, and are polarizing more all the time. This is the inevitable consequence of the Republican party having decided to abandon any effort to make itself palatable to the people who work in such fields.

We are simply seeing the results of the Sixties radicals taking over the universities

OK I have one name to toss out at you:

Alex P Keaton. For those of you too young to remember see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_P._Keaton.

It was never a foregone conclusion that young would mean liberal or techy or net based enterprises would be so (originally I recall blogging having a very conservative reputation to it because Matt Drugde and Andrew Sullivan were early on the scene). The tech scene still carries some Ayn Randish spirit with it.

The Republican Party has retreated not so much in terms of ideology but in demographics. It has become the nursing home party and how to you market to the nursing home set? You try to appear very comforting to their interests while at the same time making them fearful of others seeking to ruin things for them (see Better Call Saul for example). Hence Trump’s easy appeal even though policy-wise Alex Keaton would be baffled by him (one moment he supports markets, the next he wants trade wars?!).

33 Josh May 10, 2016 at 6:10 am

They are all liberal, they are not all left wing.

34 j r May 10, 2016 at 1:01 am

This story is interesting, because it demonstrates to us exactly how social media can be manipulated, perhaps to an even greater extent than the mainstream media. At a certain point, most people are sufficiently wary of the legacy media that they know to take it with a healthy grain of salt (at least most people who aren’t overly invested in being lied to).

In choosing to pitch this story as ‘FB suppresses conservative stories,’ the NYT and other outlets immediately defuse the more important aspects of the story by sublimating it into the overarching Team Red v Team Blue narrative. Since it’s a story of conservatives being diminished, progressives can safely dismiss it because ‘conservative new isn’t real news anyway.’ And conservatives will just get into a huff about the evils of the “lamestream media” and segregate more into the media outlets that cater specifically to them.

The irony of this sort of thing is that this is a story that ought to diminish the status of Facebook and new media in general in the eyes of users and consumers, but will actually have the opposite impact by virtue of the choice to frame this as a progressive v conservative issue. It doesn’t matter who loses in these cultural war fights, because the authorities (government, media, academic, etc.) always win.

35 Troll me May 10, 2016 at 1:52 am

Surprising that anyone would expect an unbiased newsfeed when anyone can buy targeted views to their posts, to show up in the newsfeeds of people satisfying specific variables.

36 anon May 10, 2016 at 9:48 am

That is true. I don’t think we are at the point where most people get their news from a single corporate social platform, but we all see the risk.

Tyler calls Twitter radicalizing. Perhaps. Perhaps that is what we now understand as inherent to unfiltered many to many media. See also Redit

37 Urso May 10, 2016 at 3:44 pm

A thoughtful post.

38 Keith May 10, 2016 at 1:07 am

By your own criteria then, would you characterize Black Lives Matter stories as producing a “chummy, nostalgic socializing mood”? I can’t imagine this is the case. This post is internally inconsistent.

39 j r May 10, 2016 at 1:17 am

If you’re the kind of person who exists somewhere in the center of the political spectrum, then seeing FB used to spread an anti-police brutality message is exactly those sorts of things. It’s only when you move towards the tails of the political spectrum that this starts to change, where people start to lose their minds over something as inane as a hashtag.

40 Keith May 10, 2016 at 1:30 am

Anti-police brutality and BLM messages are two different things. BLM is quite confrontational not chummy.

41 j r May 10, 2016 at 1:56 am

Find the demographic of people who spend the most time on Facebook and then find out what that demographic’s views are on Black Lives Matter movement. Guarantee that it’s somewhere around neutral to slightly positive. The SJWs are going to be blindly committed to it and the reactionaries are going to start foaming at the mouth.

The majority of people in the middle, though, are on Facebook to look at their friends’ babies, show off pictures of their lunch, and throw shade at their “haters.” The media, legacy or new, will always tend to lead slightly center left in the aggregate, because that’s what appeals to the middle. That’s the space where it is easier to signal some fuzzy commitment to hope and justice and changing your profile picture to the cause of the week, but not actually committing to do much else.

People who exist in these ideological bubbles tend to drastically overstate the extent to which the majority of the population cares about this stuff. Most people don’t care if Beyonce wore a black beret at the Super Bowl.

42 Steve Sailer May 10, 2016 at 6:45 am

From The New Yorker:

“When I asked Garza about the most common misperception of Black Lives Matter, she pointed to a frequent social-media dig that it is “a gay movement masquerading as a black one.” But the organization’s fundamental point has been to challenge the assumption that those two things are mutually exclusive.”

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/03/14/where-is-black-lives-matter-headed

BLM is like transgender bathrooms and gay marriage: it’s good for the billionaires because it divides up everybody else.

43 anon May 10, 2016 at 9:53 am

Concur with j r that BLM did not hit the middle in a big way. There were deaths, there were protests, there were productive outcomes (more dash and body cams). At that point it was over for most.

44 oh rly? May 10, 2016 at 2:17 am

When did Facebook inject BLM into their trending topics? BLM experienced a momentary high but once the media stopped caring about police brutality and BLM members became increasingly aggressive, they quickly fell in prestige. At least that’s my impression. They weren’t a trending topic on Facebook when I checked five minutes ago. So Facebook rode their wave of popularity and dumped them after that.

45 Adrian Ratnapala May 10, 2016 at 11:33 pm

Read the text of ths origina post.

It said that BLM wasn’t trending naturally, so people at Facebook artificially injected it so that it would reach #1. Presumably that happened more than five minutes ago, so now something else is trending.

46 oh rly? May 10, 2016 at 2:27 am

The post is internally consistent. TC says Facebook is motivated by demand factors e.g. creating warm fuzzy feelings and by the reputation factor e.g. appearing PC. BLM movement is example of latter.

47 Govco May 10, 2016 at 8:57 am

Hè also wrote “algorithm” several times even though the trending news feed was curated by a “newsroom” of outside contractors, so I don’t think he read the stories before posting his opinion piece.

48 Adrian Ratnapala May 10, 2016 at 11:26 pm

I have to assume that when TC puts “algorithm” in scare equotes he means then hand-crafted work of flesh and blood human beings.

Presumably he has read Daniel Dennet.

49 Jeff R. May 10, 2016 at 9:28 am

+1

The guy who coined the term ‘mood affiliation’ is, no surprise, still occasionally prone to it.

50 Matt Buckalew May 10, 2016 at 9:50 am

That’s not quite it. Cowen like Bryan Caplan is a geeky very odd looking guy whose status would decline precipitously if he were to stop assenting to every facet of cultural leftism. Cowen doesn’t have the looks or powerful personality necessary to maintains one status in the face to gatekeeper hostility very few guys marrying Eastern Bloc women do.

51 Steve Sailer May 10, 2016 at 9:54 am

Where is Trump’s wife from?

52 Matt Buckalew May 10, 2016 at 10:05 am

Fair enough. Should have been more specific in that I meant marrying women who come from the Eastern Bloc spefically to marry someone as opposed to immigrants from the EB, but I guess he would be an exception. Although until Trump ran for president he was actually a pretty PC type of guy albeit prone to tell his audience what they wanted to hear. Hard to get more PC than his comments on Scalia and AA.

53 Chip May 10, 2016 at 1:08 am

“.The “censored” right wing sources don’t fit the chummy, nostalgic socializing mood so well, and therefore Facebook wanted to keep them away.”

And yet they promoted Black Lives Matter, because nothing says nostalgic chumminess than screaming at people in public places.

FB is a private company and can do what it wants. They and the rest of the media just need to stop the silly claim that they’re objective.

54 prior_test2 May 10, 2016 at 1:16 am

‘Right now I’m more worried about American ideas getting worse than American ideas getting better’

Certainly understandable, someone actually wrote this policy idea, in some of the warmer states – ‘We also would build some makeshift structures there, similar to the better dwellings you might find in a Rio de Janeiro Favela. The quality of the water and electrical infrastructure might be low by American standards, though we could supplement the neighborhood with free municipal wireless. Hulu and other web-based TV services would replace more expensive cable connections for those residents. Then we would allow people to move there if they desired. In essence, we would be recreating a Mexico-like or Brazil-like environment in part of the United States, although with some technological add-ons and most likely greater safety.’

55 Troll me May 10, 2016 at 1:55 am

You’ve reminded us of that about 20 times, but not once proposed a viable alternative.

56 Horhe May 10, 2016 at 8:44 am

Not doing it in the first place?

57 Steve Sailer May 10, 2016 at 9:57 am

Biens the App — You know how in Frank Capra movies hobos are always huddled around campfires, morosely eating from cans of beans? Sure, back then the media made it look kind of sad, but Average Is Over. Now that you have a smartphone to provide 24/7 video entertainment, who needs to eat meat or live indoors? Biens the App opens the door to you and the rest of the Ninety Percent to become high-tech hobos. Imagine you and your loved ones huddled around your glowing smartphone watching Mad Men as you all cluck condescendingly at how Americans used to eat steak and live in houses while barely noticing the horrifying truth about life in America in 1960: they only had three networks to watch. Biens is the lifestyle for the 21st Century, a new (yet old) way of living that’s both luminous and leguminous. (Actual beans for eating sold separately.)

58 Nebfocus May 10, 2016 at 1:36 am

“and I suspect this feature of the article selection and elevation “algorithm” is perceived by Facebook as demand-driven as well.”

The article explains that they suppressed things that were trending. They were suppressing demand, not fulfilling it. Am I missing something?

59 8 May 10, 2016 at 1:49 am

They are responding to the demand for a safe space from progressives users and the advertisers who want to reach them. Conservatives treat social media like the town square, liberals like their living room, and conservatives don’t click as many ads.

Conservatives are working on alternative social media to get around the problems at Facebook and Twitter.

60 Steve Sailer May 10, 2016 at 4:47 am

It’s a sex split, too. Men tend to enjoy arguing as a contact sport, while women don’t much like debate (or sports, in general).

Advertisers generally prefer to reach women because men give women trillions of dollars to spend each year.

61 So Much For Subtlety May 10, 2016 at 5:04 am

But married women solidly went for Romney. Not that Romney or his supporters were noted for arguing as a contact sport. And most of the women who get money handed to them by men are married.

There may be some logic to this but it looks like prejudice. They had the power to push their agenda. They could not resist it. No matter what it cost them.

62 JonFraz May 10, 2016 at 1:38 pm

What Steve said about women– the dislike of argument– could be as true of married women who supported Romney as much so as liberal, unmarried women. There’s nothing mutually exclusive about the ideas.

63 The Original D May 10, 2016 at 3:19 pm

Maybe the married women dislike arguing with their husbands about politics.

64 Troll me May 10, 2016 at 1:46 am

WSJ and Post Media are suppressing things that I want them to talk about, even, outrageously, refusing to publish anything I send to them.

And, while I do not agree with the Communist Manifesto, I also observe that these private companies are also censoring all pro-side argumentation and debate of such ideas.

I want the private companies to be constitutionally required to pay for and transmit my views. I refuse to start my own company or blog. I want free dissemination of my ideas. Anything less is censorship.

65 Rich Berger May 10, 2016 at 6:24 am

The right not to be bored. It’s right there in my Constitution.

66 Troll me May 10, 2016 at 9:49 am

Right beside the right to corruption, the right to warantless spy tapping and the right to experiment on civilians without their consent.

But these are rather boring constitutional rights. So boring that we don’t even have to put them into the constitution, we all know they’re there.

Now J Lo’s newest hairdo? WOO HOOOO!!!! THAT is NEWS!

67 Urso May 10, 2016 at 3:47 pm

So if what they’re doing is not *literally unconstitutional*, then it’s not a problem? Low bar.

68 UncleMartyPants May 10, 2016 at 1:47 am

So Facebook, a company that secretly provided the NSA warrantless data of US citizens, is also suppressing topics which were trending based on their users’ clicks. This is government demand-driven media.

It is absurd to me that anyone who grants an inkling of value to the Fourth estate could be okay with this.

69 Boonton May 10, 2016 at 12:20 pm

“suppressing topics which were trending based on their users’ clicks’ is another way of saying “deciding for themselves what stuff they are going to put on their own website”.

“It is absurd to me that anyone who grants an inkling of value to the Fourth estate -..”

Isn’t the Fourth estate journalism? Since when did Facebook become a news site? It’s a collective conversation….like on online living room…the owners selling ad space so they steer the atmosphere in such a way to get the most out of this. How is this different than a bar trying to set a ‘theme’ to draw as big a crowd as possible that buys the most drinks?

70 oh rly? May 10, 2016 at 1:57 am

Mark Zuckerberg himself was overheard telling Angela Merkel that he was working to suppress anti-migrant views. Does this revelation not alter your priors?

http://www.cnbc.com/2015/09/27/angela-merkel-caught-on-hot-mic-pressing-facebook-ceo-over-anti-immigrant-posts.html

71 Khon Thai May 10, 2016 at 2:03 am

There have been prevalent rumors in Thailand that conservative (read junta supporting) Facebook staffers in Thailand have leaked account information to the government enabling persecution of those who have posted critical information.

While it is difficult to confirm this, it does appear that the government, who has not otherwise proven very competent, is able to access quite a bit of Facebook data and is brutally pursuing prosecutions.

http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/politics/965929/ncpo-insists-patnaree-case-has-grounds-deplores-campaign

72 So Much For Subtlety May 10, 2016 at 2:11 am

Most media bias in journalism is demand-driven, and I suspect this feature of the article selection and elevation “algorithm” is perceived by Facebook as demand-driven as well.

I am having trouble following this argument. Facebook clearly knew that this was not demand-driven. Their users did not want to talk about Black Lives Matter. They did want to talk about Mitt Romney. Facebook decided not to let them.

It may be that they think that if they go Full SJW everyone will be happy, but if so they need to get out of their bubble. How is that working for Twitter?

Obama is what you get when the media decides to go full on propaganda mode instead of doing their job. That is their choice, of course, but their customers will take note.

73 oh rly? May 10, 2016 at 2:42 am

Promoting BLM during the time they were adored by the media is good PR for the company. Users may not want to talk about it, but when journalists can’t get enough of BLM, it’s free press to get them talking about your company as well.

74 So Much For Subtlety May 10, 2016 at 2:58 am

It is only good PR if they tell people. They did not tell people. Journalists are mainly on the Left, but how would they know?

We are talking about them *now*. But only because a disgruntled employee leaked the facts.

75 oh rly? May 10, 2016 at 3:13 am

I’m not understanding your point. Journalists were certainly talking about BLM in the context of social media last year and how social media would lead the way in the New Civil Rights Movement.

76 So Much For Subtlety May 10, 2016 at 4:29 am

Banning Mitt Romney and hyping BLM is only good PR for Facebook if other people know they are doing it. They were doing it secretly. Thus it cannot be good or bad PR. Because no one else knew they were doing it.

Doing it secretly means they were doing it entirely for their own pleasure.

77 A Definite Beta Guy May 10, 2016 at 9:33 am

This isn’t entirely correct. Facebook was criticized during the Ferguson riots because Twitter reported the riots nonstop, and FB was all about the Ice Bucket Challenge. That BLM now shows up means FB is spared from active criticism, even if no one ever knows that FB just injected the story into the newsfeed.

78 JonFraz May 10, 2016 at 1:36 pm

Huh? How was Facebook preventing people from talking about Mitt Romney? I routinely get items echoing to my feed from both conservative and liberal friends (though I’d frankly prefer politics-free Facebook). There was no suppression of actual member postings.

79 So Much For Subtlety May 10, 2016 at 2:14 am

In those two cases I see the change in coverage as bringing net content gain rather than loss. …. They clumsily act in a politically correct manner, without proper institutional camouflage, and now they are being called on it.

How isn’t this mood affiliation? Suppressing what users want to talk about is suppressing what users want to talk about. Forcing them to talk about the racist anger of BLM isn’t much of a gain. At least it didn’t work out for Starbucks.

Leftist approve of manipulating the unwashed masses to further Leftist political goals? Not a surprise really. But mood affiliation is precisely what it is. No wonder the Left insists everything is a dog whistle. Everything they control is.

80 Boonton May 10, 2016 at 1:27 pm

Suppressing what users want to talk about is suppressing what users want to talk about. Forcing them to talk about the racist anger of BLM isn’t much of a gain. At least it didn’t work out for Starbucks

Could we clarify exactly how Facebook ‘suppressed’ what users wanted to talk about?

Leftist approve of manipulating the unwashed masses to further Leftist political goals? Not a surprise really. But mood affiliation is precisely what it is. No wonder the Left insists everything is a dog whistle. Everything they control is.

If this is the case wouldn’t one expect the market to produce a good non-biased alternative to ‘leftist’ media as an alternative? Instead we get Fox News and Glenn Beck. so what gives?

One theory, presented here, is that Facebook is a leftist conspiracy motivated to try to control society by subtly collecting information and controlling what people think. Another theory, Facebook is a capitalist entity motivated to make a profit. Tyler’s thesis is a modest left of center ‘theme’ maximizes Facebook’s income by keep as many people as possible clicking and viewing and selling ads for as much revenue as possible.

Tyler’s thesis is much more probable. For your thesis to be probable, you would have to show that Facebook’s profit maximizing point is also the point at which its newsfeed is purely democratic, based on clicks only with no attempt to tweak. Unless there’s some mechanism that pulls those two together, it would be a remarkable alignment if both points just happened to travel together.

81 Thomas May 11, 2016 at 11:09 pm

Gymnastics. Very, very sad. Complete lack of honesty.

82 Steve Sailer May 10, 2016 at 2:25 am

Facebook imposes conformity through everything going on your Permanent Record.

83 Religious Reactionary May 10, 2016 at 6:59 am

It’s really sad that blogging is mostly dead, since blogs enable lively discussion that wouldn’t follow you around for the rest of your life.

84 TFX May 10, 2016 at 5:18 am

I think this is an excellent posting. I did not know that Facebook manipulated what it provided. As a possible data source for any kind of media or public opinion analysis, it is biased and therefore extremely unreliable for any empirical studies. I do not ask for a Conservative bias social media outlet but a neutral one that would better reflect trends and information in society.

There is therefore scope in the market for a neutral competitor to Facebook. If there should be one that arrives I would join it and recommend that all my Facebook friends also join it as a better alternative.

They may have created their own noose by extending their mandate beyond being an information platform for users.

85 prior_test2 May 10, 2016 at 7:56 am

‘I did not know that Facebook manipulated what it provided.’

Well, it isn’t as if that fact would be highlighted by Facebook. And this what they were doing in 2014 – ‘But now Facebook, the world’s biggest social networking site, is facing a storm of protest after it revealed it had discovered how to make users feel happier or sadder with a few computer key strokes.

It has published details of a vast experiment in which it manipulated information posted on 689,000 users’ home pages and found it could make people feel more positive or negative through a process of “emotional contagion”.

In a study with academics from Cornell and the University of California, Facebook filtered users’ news feeds – the flow of comments, videos, pictures and web links posted by other people in their social network. One test reduced users’ exposure to their friends’ “positive emotional content”, resulting in fewer positive posts of their own. Another test reduced exposure to “negative emotional content” and the opposite happened.

The study concluded: “Emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks.”

Lawyers, internet activists and politicians said this weekend that the mass experiment in emotional manipulation was “scandalous”, “spooky” and “disturbing”.

On Sunday evening, a senior British MP called for a parliamentary investigation into how Facebook and other social networks manipulated emotional and psychological responses of users by editing information supplied to them.’ https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/29/facebook-users-emotions-news-feeds

You might be amazed at just how information sources are manipulated – Prof. Cowen knows of what he speaks, being part of one attempt since at least the mid-80s, and more recently, a NYT columnist.

86 Pablo Martínez-Almeida May 10, 2016 at 6:06 am

Having so much traffic, content is increasingly FB centered, which in turn brings additional traffic. FB provides very good load times and offers the possibility of handling comments, a pain in the neck for most media.

Problem is Facebook is getting so big it is becoming a platform, kind of a new layer on top of the internet.

If this growth goes on and people start identifying FB with Internet, it might be up to discussion whether its news service is another media outlet or should be a repository that displays info in terms of some objective metric (e.g.: visits, mentions…).

Being so successful, Facebook could be facing calls for break-up pretty soon.

87 Axa May 10, 2016 at 6:45 am

US Facebook user age distribution: http://www.statista.com/statistics/398136/us-facebook-user-age-groups/ and activity on Facebook by age.http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/6031/Activity-on-Facebook-by-Age-Infographic.aspx#sm.0000lnt0n9m1wfhev922btu3m9buy

Thus, young people (18-34) are 60% of total users and peak “wall post activity” in also in this age bracket. For short, Facebook depends on 18-34 years old people. The black lives matter issue fits the definition of “awareness” according to SWPL: you do nothing but you feel good anyway.

Imagine FB as a club for young people. People is diverse but the common ground is that all of them want to bang each other at the end of the night. People will try to impress others bragging about income, spirituality, knowledge, looks, drugs, veganism, whatever. Every weekend the club is full of young people buying drinks. The club owner tries to create at atmosphere of adventure, that everything is possible, leave your problems at the door. The club owner does not let enter the boring guy who will talk about taxes and immigrants. Of course, if that boring guy enters the club and starts screaming about how taxation = theft, everyone will look at and listen to him but don’t mistake attention for popularity. If the club owner admits the boring guy next weekend, people will just look for another club.

If Facebook wants to survive in business, it has to stay forever young just like night clubs. Right-wing rants will create ephemeral traffic spikes but long term decline. Getting attention and being popular are NOT the same.

88 So Much For Subtlety May 10, 2016 at 7:15 am

Young people are probably not as left wing as you think. The fact that Romney was spiking and BLM was not indicates that.

The Left has not been hip for a long time. After all, what could be more typical of the Left than Bernie Sanders going his Angry Granddad routine? He is like a Clinton character but without the cool car and guns.

It is true that some people perceive the Left this way. But I am not sure that most Facebook users agree with them.

89 rayward May 10, 2016 at 6:47 am

Angry conservative is redundant, at least it is based on the typical news story during this political campaign. I ride a bicycle three days a week, the bulk of the ride on a two-lane highway in my sparsely populated low country community. I am often confronted by what appear to be angry people driving automobiles who threaten, and sometimes do, run me off the road. No, these are not white guys in pickup trucks with gun racks on the back window, but older men and women in luxury Mercedes and Lexus automobiles. For a long time I just assumed they were angry white people (they are always white), typical angry conservatives in other words – angry at me for riding a fancy looking bicycle and wearing bright bicycle gear that makes a long ride physically tolerable and me highly visible. I was wrong. They may well be conservative (99.9% of white people here are conservative) but their problem isn’t that they are angry, their problem is that they are stupid and can’t make a simple adjustment to the way they have always driven an automobile: automobiles have the right-of-way and bicyclists be damned. Riding my bicycle makes me different, like an immigrant. My observation about conservatives is that they prefer same over different. Their dilemma is that the world around them is different and they don’t like it.

90 So Much For Subtlety May 10, 2016 at 7:20 am

So …. you keep making a lot of people annoyed by doing something that is both dangerous, life-threatening actually, and unexpected. And it is their fault?

You don’t think that perhaps whatever the rules of the road are, if you know that it is unexpected, you should make a little effort to be less of a surprise?

91 josh May 10, 2016 at 7:55 am

Then he extrapolates his frustration into a psychological theory which he then applies to 100 million people.

92 Troll me May 10, 2016 at 10:04 am

I’m pretty sure the life threatening activity is driving cars, rather more so than riding a bicycle.

93 Dylan May 10, 2016 at 12:30 pm

Speed differentials and a lack of safety features are dangerous, not higher speeds per se. He’s introducing a huge speed differential and not surrounded by any meaningful safety features, so he’s clearly the one at fault for raising the risk of death.

94 TMC May 10, 2016 at 3:01 pm

Maybe you just need to learn how to ride the damn bike.

95 tjamesjones May 10, 2016 at 7:15 am

almost sounds as if the world around you is different and you don’t like it.

96 Curt F. May 10, 2016 at 7:38 am

Tyler Cowen is apparently not much bothered by people who lie to the public. After the VW fiasco broke, his posts here and at the NYT explained away VW’s fraud as inconsequential relative to other sources of air pollution. Now after this story, we get a message about how Facebook’s lying isn’t really that bad. I love reading this blog and have no doubt that Tyler is a great economist, but can you imagine if he’d been a journalist assigned to cover Watergate? What sort of apologia for Nixon would we have heard? “The Watergate break-in is really a social conformity story than a monopoly power dilemma” perhaps? Maybe because “the Nixon campaign didn’t have the subtle manipulative institutions that DNC had developed over decades”?

97 josh May 10, 2016 at 7:53 am

Lack of a moral compass signals sophistication, and TC *LOVES* to signal sophistication.

98 Brent May 10, 2016 at 8:38 am

Honesty is really my issue. Sharing this type of data is somewhat of an unspoken contract that it will be used fairly. If “trending articles” were to be renamed “trending articles that Zuckerberg likes” they would get less attention.

Have we become so jaded that we should just assume that all data aggregating companies are going to manipulate, message and/or outright lie about the data that they are presenting to the public in order to maximize profit? What does that say about our decision to allow Google and Facebook basically unfettered access to our personal lives?

99 nigel May 10, 2016 at 9:36 am

He is not bothered by fraud on the public, because he is more or less a utilitarian, so fraud that results in net benefit is a good thing. Here he sees it as net benefit: people saw more Syria stories than they otherwise would have because they’re inclined not to care about suffering halfway around the world; same with Black Lives Matter. People saw fewer conservative stories confirming their preexisting biases and lacking “nuance”.

100 Yancey Wardt May 10, 2016 at 9:41 am

Have we become so jaded

:

I suggest that “jaded” is the wrong word here. “Enlightened” is the appropriate word.

101 Troll me May 10, 2016 at 10:02 am

On the social conformity aspect of the Watergate scandal, you might be interested in what is now know as the Martha Mitchell Effect: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martha_Mitchell_effect.

102 Boonton May 10, 2016 at 1:38 pm

“Tyler Cowen is apparently not much bothered by people who lie to the public ”

Not really seeing the lie here. Lots of sites and magazines have sections called things like “trending” or “hot” or “new”. We almost never get the detailed methods they use to figure out what goes on these lists but it is almost always “look at stuff getting clicks, pick out ten things that seem interesting”.

Only if Facebook asserted ‘trending’ meant only the top clicks, or shares, or likes do I think you have a case that a lie was told. But Facebook almost certainly never said such a thing (if for no other reason the moment you work off of something simple like clicks people will use bots to get their ads to the top of the list by churning fake clicks).

103 Dave May 10, 2016 at 1:49 pm

Boonton wrote: “Not really seeing the lie here.”
“Only if Facebook asserted ‘trending’ meant only the top clicks, or shares, or likes do I think you have a case that a lie was told.”

Here is Facebook’s claim about how “trending” is determined, from the FB help center: Trending shows you topics that have recently become popular on Facebook. The topics you see are based on a number of factors including engagement, timeliness, Pages you’ve liked and your location.

Engagement sounds a lot like posts and clicks. So FB admits it tailors the list to your preferences, but hides the fact that it aggregates the list based on their preferences.

104 Boonton May 10, 2016 at 1:56 pm

“Number of factors” means they were clear from the start they weren’t going to tell you everything that went into ‘trending’.

“engagement, timeliness” – what exactly does that mean and how do you measure it objectively. You could argue that Syria is timely even though it may not get lots of likes/shares/clicks since it is happening right now. “engagement” means what exactly? It very well may be Tyler is right, Facebook gets more people using it when they see topics in trending they expect (say topics that mirror somewhat what’s big in the news these days plus entertainment happenings)…hence they engage with Facebook more when they see stuff like “Syria” in the trending even if “Obama is evil Muslim Baby Killer” happens to get more clicks because a sub-culture of wingnuts is clicking like crazy on that.

Fact is Facebook never provided their method to readers, never promised to provide it and probably never could since any algorithm would be open to gaming by advertisers who would engineer FB pages to score top on trending.

105 dave May 10, 2016 at 2:52 pm

Boonton, all good points on FB not disclosing all that goes into the “trending list.” But your use of the word algorithm seems stretched when the story is the curators were told to suppress some sources/stories and to insert others. That’s not an algorithm, that’s distortion.

106 Boonton May 10, 2016 at 3:43 pm

Fair point as well but you can’t expect a pure algorithm to be driving something when the primary criteria are essentially subjective (popular, ‘engagement’, timely). You will either get an algorithm whose results are tweaked by subjective editors OR you will be tweaking the algorithm until it produces results that fit the editor’s subjective judgment.

So think about it, suppose you say ‘timely’ means it featured as a major headline on large mainstream news outlets. Suppose your ‘popular’ method ends up with a trending list that consists of nothing but “Obama is anti-Christ and was born in Kenya”. You keep adjusting the algorithm until it ends up with Syria as trending but the crackpot headline doesn’t usually appear at all. You now have a totally algorithm based method of producing a trending list.

But how is that different than an editor who decides to selectively kill or add stories in order to provide the list with a “feel” that is both relevant and respectable?

This leads to the question of what exactly are Facebook users seeking in something like ‘trending’. Do they want simply the top ten like or shares produced by the site? That would be very simple to produce BUT the fact that trending is described with all those fuzzy criteria (popular, timely, engaging etc.) indicates that from the start people who bothered to use it wanted something more than a top ten list but something that was a bit more selective and suggestive. The ‘lie’ then was the assumption that this was all being done behind the scenes with some magical Google-like AI…instead we now know actual humans have touched some of the selections before Facebook served them on our plate!

But then they never exactly promised no human hand would ever touch the ‘food’ and I’m not sure there really is a difference between an algorithm that is endlessly ‘tweaked’ until it produces desired results versus an algorithm that is subjected to periodic items that are added or deleted by direct human intervention.

107 Thomas May 11, 2016 at 11:20 pm

Boonton is really putting in an effort to stick his head in the sand. Shameful to read. It’s obvious that his opinion would be quite different if the outcomes weren’t too his liking. A typical and instructional example of a modern authoritarian, ‘serious’, liberal.

108 bellisaurius May 10, 2016 at 8:15 am

So, facebook wants to be the dinner table. I’m actually fine with that as long as they gore everyone’s ox. The problem is their filters are going to be biased toward silicon valley style thought because that’s what the filter’s going to be. I’m hoping they see the grief meter here and adjust.

109 CMOT May 10, 2016 at 8:40 am

Tyler’s response is an example of the weak anthropic principle in action:
if he were bothered by suppression of non-pc news ideas, he wouldn’t have lasted as university professor.

110 It's Over May 10, 2016 at 9:20 am

I’m a big fan, but this is one if of Tyler’s dumbest posts. No mood affiliation at all. But it also explains why he’s never shown any real interest in any of the campus free speech issues going on right now. I suppose he’s ok with suppressing free speech as long as it doesn’t lead to pervasive ennui.

111 nigel May 10, 2016 at 9:33 am

“Ultimately this is more of a social conformity story than a monopoly power dilemma.”

No, it is neither. It is a fraud story. The “trending” feature is implicitly and explicitly represented as a reflection of the current interests of millions of people, not a handful of liberal Facebook managers and employees. If some news is suppressed, then it appears that the public doesn’t care about it when in fact it might. If other news is supported, the opposite is the case. In the case of social movements originating on Facebook, this can have real consequences.

112 Troll me May 10, 2016 at 9:56 am

Now imagine if we applied such reasoning to ALL media companies.

For example, requiring coverage of presidential candidates in proportion to their support. Or requiring coverage of pro- and anti-legalization views for marijuana in proportion to their support in the population.

Hey, maybe not a horrible rule. But if we’re going to apply such reasoning, let’s do so in an even handed manner.

113 nigel May 10, 2016 at 10:47 am

Non sequitur. The proper analogy would be Pew doing a poll on what stories are most popular but secretly manipulating the data. People would justly be outraged. Your conclusion does not follow — other media companies do not represent to the public that certain news is objectively “trending”. They just report based on their own priorities. Accurately applying my reasoning to another media company (organization should be held accountable for misrepresenting objective facts), a more appropriate example would be journalistic fabrication or exaggeration of the facts of a story. People get fired for doing that, and they should.

114 Troll me May 10, 2016 at 3:00 pm

Facebook does not purport to be a polling company.

115 Boonton May 10, 2016 at 4:19 pm

This analogy would work if you are talking about something like “most shared” or “most read” which appear on some sites like Slate.com. “Trending”, though, from the beginning was defined as being driven by multiple criteria (popularity, timely, engaging, etc.) Even if no human hand ever directly touched the results, it was clear that the algorithm would be rather complicated and almost certainly was constantly being tweaked per someone’s subjective judgment of whether or not it was producing ‘good’ results.

116 Thomas May 11, 2016 at 11:22 pm

Spin, spin, spin.

117 CMOT May 10, 2016 at 9:37 am

The difference between the smart and successful and the merely smart is the ability to not just actualize self interest, but to internalize it as a positive good.

A lot of wonderful profiles of our host have been written, the words “smart” and “successful” appear in them all, but the word “brave” appears in none.

Tyler will never be a part of the social justice mob, but it’s in his interest to be a Good German, so he’s going to a great one.

118 derek May 10, 2016 at 9:59 am

What is Facebook? Does anyone here use Facebook for news? I used to frequent the site because my family was there, but stopped when I saw things showing up in my feed that I didn’t subscribe to.

So Zuckerberg is like the crazy uncle or university kid that wants to talk politics at Thanksgiving dinner.

Your core competency is getting lads laid and grandmothers connected to their grandchildren.

119 anon May 10, 2016 at 5:44 pm

I have a feeling Zucks the kind of guy with an inflated sense of self importance and poor instincts when it comes to determining what regular people want. I have yet to be convinced that the guy is a competent business man in the way steve jobs was.

120 anon May 10, 2016 at 10:01 am

So sad that so many get hung up on BLM and that Facebook/Tyler are wrong about it.

Do you believe all lives matter? Do you have a basic understanding of set theory? Then BLM can’t be wrong, should not be crossed out. That simple.

121 TMC May 10, 2016 at 3:09 pm

BLM had my support until they went ape-shit over Hillary saying All lives matter. It is they who do not understand set theory.

122 Thomas May 11, 2016 at 11:26 pm

Yes and anyone who believes in equality is a feminist, because we ignore everything except names, right? #BLM supports reparations and race quotas and racial segregation. Basing your opinion of #BLM on their name instead of their explicit demands is a level of stupidity that is hard to describe

123 Millian May 10, 2016 at 10:06 am

Perhaps Trump delegate Peter Thiel should have held on to all those shares.

124 jorod May 10, 2016 at 10:29 am

Our news has been selected by New York elites for years.

125 Scott Gustafson May 10, 2016 at 10:42 am

As stated earlier, this is about fraud. What was thought to be an unbiased algorithm has been shown to be biased against conservative stories. I don’t have a problem with this as long as they are honest about it. They were not and are not.

The second issue, from a business standpoint, is why offend a substantial portion of your customer base? Hasn’t worked out well for Colbert’s late night show.

126 anon May 10, 2016 at 10:54 am

I bet you think “best sellers” at online stores are best sellers.

127 Axa May 10, 2016 at 12:13 pm

How many sites have the “recommended for you” articles. Even the NYT plays that game. I’d say they should track my data to produce a recommendation, but what data and what are the algorithm biases?

128 Bill May 10, 2016 at 10:49 am

I read all the comments but no one apparently read the NYT article because no one discussed why there was a difference.

“The trending feature is curated by a team of contract employees, according to two former Facebook employees who worked on it and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of nondisclosure agreements. They said they considered themselves members of a newsroom-like operation, where editorial discretion was not novel but was an integral part of the process.

Any “suppression,” the former employees said, was based on perceived credibility — any articles judged by curators to be unreliable or poorly sourced, whether left-leaning or right-leaning, were avoided, though this was a personal judgment call.”

That explains it…unreliable or poorly sourced.

129 nigel May 10, 2016 at 11:04 am

The articles say there was no evidence of a company policy against conservative news stories, but that there were in fact directives to insert non-trending stories deemed politically desirable into the trending list. In either case, not to beat a dead horse, the problem is that they never told anyone that “trending” stories did not reflect merely what people were actually posting but was in fact the result of a “newsroom” process. Indeed, they expressly gave the opposite impression.

From the Gizmodo article: “Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing—but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.””

130 Boonton May 10, 2016 at 1:44 pm

“non-trending” and even “popular” are poorly defined here. There is no right to a ‘pure algorithm only generated trending list’.

131 Thomas May 11, 2016 at 11:31 pm

Folks, look at how dishonest the left is. The same people that would hammer any given corporation for slightly misleading consumers, here spoon away because ends justify means when you don’t have principles.

132 Thomas May 11, 2016 at 11:29 pm

Lol. Look at how stupid Bill is. Look at this circular reasoning. This is the “I fucking love science” attitude on full display.

133 Ray Lopez May 10, 2016 at 11:28 am

Facebook? Racebook. As an early FB meme once said.

134 John May 10, 2016 at 11:35 am

When did Facebook become the NYT, the Washington Post, or a news organization? I look at it to keep in touch with folks I grew up with, my out of town family, and pictures of cute cats! “Trending” right now is Louis CK, Ozzy Osbourne and Bryce Harper….None of which I find that interesting – much like Black Lives Matter, Mitt Romney, and Donald Trump’s hand size. It appears that some people, have some kind of agenda (shocking as it may be). I don’t really care to hear about it. It’s interfering with my cat videos…

135 JoS. S. Laughon May 10, 2016 at 11:39 am

Remember when conservatives and rightists complained about the level of virtue signalling in American culture/politics and everyone said we were crazy?

136 John May 10, 2016 at 11:43 am

I love your post, JoS. S. Laughon!

137 anon May 10, 2016 at 12:44 pm

Yes, signals the correct virtues for my subgroup.

138 Jordan May 10, 2016 at 11:43 am

Off the mark IMO. The point is not Facebook’s evolution towards more traditional media tactics. The point is not even that they (or their “contractors” if you read the Gizmodo piece) curate content. The point is that they curate content against a premise of non-curation, and they curate content with a political bias against a premise of no bias. Crowd-sourced social media trending self-corrects for problems of relevance to its audience…it is sourced by its audience. If Facebook needs to cater to center-left because its constituency is center-left, then its uncurated trending content will already land center-left. Early on social media was seen as a raw and unbiased megaphone for free speech, and that’s eroding away across numerous platforms. The fact that it’s being done behind the scenes and despite false premises should be lamented, or at least called out for what it is.

139 Carl May 10, 2016 at 12:15 pm

Exactly. The curators are obviously to the left of the users.

140 anon May 10, 2016 at 12:46 pm
141 dave May 10, 2016 at 12:08 pm

To sum up, FB does suppress stories it doesn’t like (conservative, right wing, etc) and inserts stories it does like (BlackLivesMatter, Syria) due to pressure from groups FB wants to appease. The “trending” section is not purely data driven, but “enhanced” by their agenda. The author, Tyler, is okay with this because 1) he generally agrees with the agenda 2) wants FB to be calming and not “radical” like twitter.

This is why people hate and distrust the media. It isn’t because what they report is not true. It is because they manipulate stories for an agenda and refuse to cover what is not helpful to their narrative, making media one more fictional narrative loosely based on reality. News, trending, and “reality” shows are now all “based on a true story.”

142 Boonton May 10, 2016 at 1:50 pm

Exactly what reality are you talking about? Last I checked Syria really exists. Are you defining non-fictional as being driven only by ‘who gets the most clicks?’.

“Hate and distrust” here seem to be outs for people that lose and argument. Want to argue for Trump, against Syrian refugees, etc? Facebook has no shortage of resources for you. In fact my feed is constantly filled with people reposting stories from ‘news sites’ that seem to exist only to provide clickbait for right-wing FB users.

143 dave May 10, 2016 at 2:49 pm

The “fiction” is things that would otherwise not make a “trending” list being inserted as if it were “trending.” And, things people are talking about being removed as if no one cared. People hate the media not because what they report is not true, but because of slant/bias and what is not said. The most important question one can ask of any news story today is “what did they not tell me.”

That you felt the need to spin this as being about Trump (a narcissistic, misogynistic blowhard) says far more about you than anything else.

144 Boonton May 10, 2016 at 4:00 pm

“Trending” as defined by FB means it is something “popular, engaging, timely” and more. Clearly from the start it was defined as something a lot more fuzzy and a lot less objective than something like “most read” or “most shared”.

So maybe people weren’t talking about Syria but isn’t that ‘timely’ as defined by what major news headlines were talking about? “Engaging” means what exactly? Do people discuss the topic or do people hang out on Facebook when they happen to see that particular topic is ‘trending’? Even popular is rather fuzzy…is it the most unique users, the # of users times their intensity (say comments per day or clicks), or cross chatter between networks of users who usually don’t interact with each other?

For example, if Sanders people chatter with each other 1000 times a day, Hillary people and Trump people do the same but some topic like the NC Bathroom bill causes 500 instances of chatter where members of all three groups start fighting back and forth on a thread that might be considered ‘popular’ even though the ‘normal’ items are getting 2x the traffic.

Fact is unlike ‘most read’ or ‘most shared’ or ‘most recent comments’ the trending concept never clearly presented itself as any simple concept. It is however something that you may think you understand if you don’t think about it too hard and what most people think is some type of pure AI algorithm that is clean of any human intervention. But even that concept isn’t very clear since algorithms are often tweaked a lot. Do results get better if no human ever inserted or deleted a trending item but tweaked the algorithm until ‘Syria’ showed up some amount of times and “Hillary is ugly” shows up less?

145 JWatts May 10, 2016 at 4:46 pm

“That you felt the need to spin this as being about Trump (a narcissistic, misogynistic blowhard) says far more about you than anything else.”

+1

Boonton’s posts on this topic are just rank apologia.

146 Boonton May 10, 2016 at 4:58 pm

What is the ranking of my apologia?

More importantly, what exactly am I apologizing for?

147 JWatts May 10, 2016 at 6:49 pm

“what exactly am I apologizing for?”

Facebook’s unethical practices.

148 Boonton May 11, 2016 at 9:20 am

You’ve lived a sheltered life if you think this is a real ethical issue.

149 Thomas May 11, 2016 at 11:34 pm

If Boonton could curate this discussion, surely we’d already be focused on a real ethical issue. What ab authoritarian, unethical twit.

150 Becky Hargrove May 10, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Every once in a while a Facebook meme will surprise you. I just saw one about Uber being banned because (insert government) needs the DWI money.

151 Andreas Moser May 10, 2016 at 12:26 pm

People who get their news from Facebook cannot be helped.

152 JWatts May 10, 2016 at 4:47 pm

Facebook doesn’t want to help them, it wants to herd them.

153 Turkey Vulture May 10, 2016 at 1:33 pm

Maybe Facebook’s employees (and founder) are able to take advantage of agency problems to attempt to further their own political agendas at the expense of being profit-maximizing? So they curate and manipulate based not on a genuine belief about what is actually demanded, but based on what their ideology tells them should be demanded.

Not to worry, though. Everything is fine when it is done by a powerful corporation.

154 Urso May 10, 2016 at 3:50 pm

Facebook’s incredible & meteoric rise has left it in this unique position where it’s a huge corporation that many people still think of as a plucky little startup since that’s what it was as little as ten years ago, maybe even eight years ago. Similarly, google got a ton of mileage out of its “don’t be evil” slogan even though it is quite obviously an objectively evil entity.

155 JonFraz May 10, 2016 at 1:33 pm

The fine print in this is that the suppression only involved “news” stories from dubious an propagandist sources, notably Breitbart.com. Mainstream sources (e.g. The Wall Street Journal) were not so treated. And likewise Dailykos items on the Left were excluded from the “trending” list.

156 Russell Newquist May 10, 2016 at 2:59 pm

Overall I think of Twitter as radicalizing, and Facebook as calming and connecting. – See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/#sthash.HDUAVP99.dpuf

You don’t use Facebook much, do you?

157 Troll me May 10, 2016 at 3:07 pm

I actually always assumed that “trending” meant flat out paid for.

It turns out that Facebook isn’t half as unscrupulous as I’d thought. Maybe I’ll consider changing from the default “ignore whatever is “trending” approach”.

158 Thomas May 11, 2016 at 11:36 pm

And why wouldn’t you? They aren’t trending topics, they are topics included to appeal to people like you.

159 Herb May 10, 2016 at 8:41 pm

“And frankly, a lot of right-wing news sources just aren’t very good — I suppress them myself, without any aid from Facebook.”

Word.

160 Art Deco May 10, 2016 at 10:27 pm

He’s not making judgements of quality, but affiliation. You read the moderators for a while, you realize it’s mostly guises and poses.

161 Herb May 11, 2016 at 10:22 am

I didn’t find the statement nearly so confusing.

162 Boonton May 11, 2016 at 11:17 am

To sum up all of this, I’d say “Facebook never promised you a rose garden”

“Trending” was defined from the start not as simply being about counting clicks but essentially a subjective presentation of ‘what’s hot’.

Any list of ‘what’s hot’ is going to be biased. The objection here is actual humans may intervene in the output from time to time. So what? All the time humans look at the output of algorithms and tweak them if they decide they are not good enough. If Syria appearing because a human editor decides it should be in the results because it’s big in the news any different than tweaking the algorithm until Syria shows up because major news headlines are given heavier weights? There’s no real difference.

163 Thomas May 11, 2016 at 11:40 pm

Boonton would clearly feel the same way if NPR started supressing negative news about Trump, while taking in a few million from Trump, because hey, NPR is ‘listener funded’ and Trump is a listener. Just kidding, Boonton is a dishonest hack.

164 eddie May 11, 2016 at 2:14 pm

As JonFraz points out, and as approximately 100% of people reporting and commenting on this story have completely overlooked – the NYT report provides zero evidence that there is a political bias regarding which stories are being suppressed, and at least SOME evidence that what is being suppressed is stories sourced exclusively from political sites, whether conservative or liberal.

Not that it matters, because nobody actually reads anything any more, as the reactions to this story have readily demonstrated.

165 eddie May 12, 2016 at 1:16 pm

Facebook explains what they do.

https://www.facebook.com/tstocky/posts/10100853082337958

The stories that the NYT article says were suppressed likely fall into the “subjects with insufficient sources” category, as would comparable stories from leftist websites.

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