It all started when Gizmodo published an article about claims of former Facebook (FB) news curators who claimed its editors routinely censored Conservative news. Then, on May 9th Tom Stocky, Trending Manager and Clinton Campaign donator, published a lengthy explanation about FB’s editorial discretion. He claimed some organically trending topics were omitted from FB’s sidebar trending module, stories it deemed newsworthy were injected into its news module, and stories about FB required manager approval. At first blush, this sounds more like an exercise of editorial discretion than a scandal.
For Conservatives to have a legitimate claim, it rests on the implicit assumption that everyone goes to FB for news. However, Conservatives already have their go-to news station: FOX News. They can also visit websites like The Drudge report, The Daily Mail, or Breitbart. Many articles on these sites are known to be fabricated and salacious. Unsurprisingly, these are the sorts of stories that were left out. So, it’s safe to assume most Conservatives use FB as a social site instead of a news source and that they were not deprived of newsworthy stories.
The same is true for Establishment Democrats. CNN and MSNBC both favour Establishment Democratic ideas. They have more cable news channels to choose from and can find a host of democratic-leaning websites to choose from as well. It’s safe to say Establishment Democrats find their news from other places than FB and didn’t miss the “censored” Conservative news discussed in Gizmodo.
However, Progressives don’t have a go-to cable news outlet and are forced to find other sources of information for their news. Many Progressives go to the Internet to get their news. They are more likely to go to Democracy Now, The Intercept, The Young Turks, or Scisco Media. It’s not likely that Progressives go to FB for their news either and they surely weren’t missing those Conservative news articles.
So, what’s the scandal anyways?
The “scandal” here, if you can even call it that, is that FB News and Trends are skewed to favour the very corporations that dominate America’s current political system. Things are heating up now but a short time ago less people cared about news and politics. But, political apathy is alive and well in America. Millennials are running full-speed away from corporate news because it spreads misinformation and simply won’t cover stories they are interested in.
Corporate media found a way to circumvent its mid 60-year-old average audience. Corporate news headlines found a new home on FB’s news module on the right-hand side of your home screen. Maybe there wasn’t ever an explicit agreement between FB and corporate, or establishment news, but FB uses corporate news as a sort of “standard” to determine veracity and newsworthiness of other stories – even the ones that trend organically. In effect, those that have chosen to turn off Corporate media and use the Internet are still inundated with news they chose not to watch.
Sure, no one really goes to FB for its news. It’s also true that salacious articles on rinky-dink Conservative news sites aren’t news and shouldn’t be trending, anyways. FB is a place for friends and families to keep in touch, post selfies, and cute animal videos. So, the news module is actually akin to an advertisement for Corporate news. It’s like an advertisement for a particular brand of pro-corporatist thought but it’s a bit more sinister below the surface.
FB’s news module can actually be said to be a branch of unaccountable government advertisement because the “standard” of news measurement is manufactured by news outlets owned by the top 6 corporations that lobby extensively for corporate-friendly laws. It’s the epitome of a revolving door but think of it like a revolving advertisement of what the government wants you to think.
At the very same time that FB curators, like Stocky, decide what is FB newsworthy — they also decide what is not newsworthy. This promotes a distinct pro-corporatist narrative, where any anti-establishment news or candidate, like Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein, get shafted because Progressive policies don’t fit into FB’s pro-corporatist agenda. Therefore, Progressive viewpoints are presented unfavourably and bad press about Progressives will be highlighted and exaggerated.
Therefore, the real “scandal” is one of unaccountable government influence and dangerous pro-corporatist agenda, which misinforms FB users and stifles robust political debates. This is the antithesis of freedom of speech. Here, the First Amendment is circumvented via private organizations and corporations, which use lobbyists to frame political discussion, action, and law making. When a pro-establishment and pro-corporatist narrative is portrayed in the news owned by the corporations that essentially make (rig) the laws AND these same news stations are the genesis of FB news module, dissent is stifled.
As an example ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), one of the largest lobbying groups in America: has worked with General Electric, owner of MSNBC; currently works with Time Warner Cable, owner of CNN, which has a pro-Clinton bias; and has worked with News Corporation, which owns FOX News. FB has also previously worked with ALEC.
All establishment news shows are owned by the top 6 corporations – see infographic below:
But this isn’t a scandal where one political party is being singled out, as Conservatives claim. Technically, Progressives suffered more harm because they can only get news about the stories they care about online. Progressives are interested in substantive news versus the mudslinging articles that The Drudge Report publishes. It is true progressives have other sites to find their news. They don’t need FB to cover their news but when it doesn’t cover the facts on the most popular site in the world, it is cause for very serious concern.
FB users worldwide were deprived of organically trending news. People often join conversations about news by commenting on posts. But, when much of the news is missing or issues are mis-framed, there’s no robust political debate.
For example, instead of robust discussion about how universal healthcare is a cost effective human right and better alternative to Obama Care, the debate centres on the demise of the for-profit health insurance and pharmaceutical companies that would kill the free market. By their very definition, insurance companies are death panels because they make profits from denying services. In America, insurance companies can’t deny services anymore based on “pre-existing conditions” but it can deny coverage! Then the hardship Americans face is determining whether to pay for healthcare services or to eat. The largest cause of bankruptcy in the US is still medical costs. Where’s the robust debate about better alternatives? You won’t find that narrative in FB’s trending news module.
In fact, biases are written into FB’s news module. The next screen shot is quite telling. “Bernie Sanders” is the headline when news is presumably unfavourable to him or his campaign. Bernie is inherently anti-establishment and pro-labour and it’s not surprising when his name is buried under a headline if the news favours his policies or campaign. Here, “#WyomingCaucus” is a favourable story to Bernie because he won the Wyoming Caucus and his name is not the headline. The very next story is also about Bernie but his name is the headline and it’s a story that is unfavourable to Bernie. Americans are notoriously pro-Israel and Bernie said its attack on Gaza was disproportionate. Mainstream news has even classified him as anti-Israel, which is absurd because he has a fair stance on the conflict and is Jewish.
If “#WyomingCaucus” was the second heading, the third heading should not have been under “Bernie Sanders” but under “Israel”.
There is a difference between FB’s side news module, which serves as an advertisement for corporate news, and the newsfeed. When a trending headline is mentioned in a post, it will show on the writer’s friends’ newsfeeds under that particular headline. Most often, when the post is about Bernie Sanders, the newsfeed headline will show as trending under “Hillary Clinton.”
These headlines are misleading and predetermined by curators rather than trending organically. FB is furthering corporate news’ agenda because it uses establishment news as authority to determine veracity and newsworthiness of other stories. For example, CNN is known to have a pro-Clinton bias. Also, Time Warner Cable, one of the top ten Clinton Foundation donators, owns CNN and, therefore, the “journalist’s” bosses are massively biased in favour of Hillary. When Bernie appears on CNN, the “journalist’s” questions are almost always seeking a response to a question about Hillary. The man can’t even talk about his own policies. This is an effort to snuff his ideas out of the debate for fear the populous will agree with his message. On FB, news about Bernie trends under Hillary. This must end. Bernie has won more states than Hillary and deserves his own headline. See screen shot below:
In the top right picture and bottom picture, the articles are about Bernie. A criticism might be that the articles trending under Hillary was a poor curator choice or even a bad algorithm. But, the top left picture could have trended under Reich, Clinton, Krugman, or Sanders and it STILL trended under Hillary. Hillary has very high unfavourable ratings that are now worse than Trump’s. There is no reason that Bernie Sanders should not be trending. He’s won more states than Hillary, beats Trump in every general election matchup poll, and the majority of Americans agree with Bernie issue-for-issue. Something more nefarious is clearly at play.
Could it be that the overwhelming majority of FB’s staff has donated to Hillary’s campaign? Stocky donated as much as is allowed by America’s very lax campaign donation laws. He’s human like the rest of us. We want to see our team win, especially when we have skin (or money) in the game.
FB’s trending news headlines are misleading at best. The news module is full of rhetoric and bias and is more like a pro-corporation narrative pushing an agenda of the same ideas used to make the devastating policies of the last four decades. Mis-framed issues stifle robust debate. That’s the real scandal: that FB is becoming another corporate sell-out and it’s particularly loathsome that it’s happening on the Internet, which is supposed to be a space for free thought.