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Posted: May 12, 2016

Facebook is fully capable of inserting bias into your news feed

BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 24: The Facebook logo is displayed at the Facebook Innovation Hub on February 24, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. The Facebook Innovation Hub is a temporary exhibition space where the company is showcasing some of its newest technologies and projects. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Sean Gallup
BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 24: The Facebook logo is displayed at the Facebook Innovation Hub on February 24, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. The Facebook Innovation Hub is a temporary exhibition space where the company is showcasing some of its newest technologies and projects. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

By Leah Becerra

Facebook said its "news curators" didn't suppress conservative news outlets in its trending news module, even though they have the capability to do so. 

>> Read: Facebook curators suppressed conservative news, former staff members say

On Monday, Gizmodo cited anonymous sources who claimed to be former Facebook contractors and said they routinely weeded out news from conservative sites while moderating the "Trending News" section.

Facebook denied the accusation.

Tom Stocky, who is in charge of Facebook's trending topics team, said that after an algorithm picks out popular topics for the module, humans audit the results. During that review process, bias can easily seep into what's considered top news.

But the top news module is small and found on mobile devices only after a search. Some say it would be of more concern if Facebook used personal bias to curate users' main news feeds, which could happen. 

In 2014, Facebook admitted to tweaking the news feed, or at least to letting researchers experiment with the feed. 

The team filtered whether users saw more positive or negative posts for a week, then tracked whether the users' own posts became more positive or negative in response

>> Read more trending stories  

In the study's backlash, Facebook maintained that it had the right to conduct the research. Users agree to terms of service when they sign up for the site, and those terms say it's OK.

The older manipulation of the news feed and the new allegation about the top news module serve as reminders that social media sites can ultimately control what you see on their sites. 

Every time a user logs in to Facebook, he or she could potentially see about 1,500 posts on a news feed, but Facebook's algorithm narrows that number down to a less overwhelming 300 posts or fewer.


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