Facebook Offers Political Bias Training In Wake Of Trending Controversy

By Michael Nunez on at

Facebook is adding political scenarios to its orientation training following concerns, first reported by Gizmodo, that workers were suppressing conservative topics in its Trending news section.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, announced the change during an interview with conservative leader Arthur Brooks, president of the prominent conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute. Brooks also attended a private meeting between Facebook executives and prominent conservative leaders following the controversy.

“We had an ex-contractor on that team who accused us of liberal bias,” Sandberg said during the interview. “Frankly, it rang true to some people because there is concern that Silicon Valley companies have a liberal bias. We did a thorough investigation, and we didn’t find a liberal bias.”

In its response to a recent US Senate inquiry about the bias allegations, Facebook said that prior to July 2015, topics could have been omitted from the trending module if they weren’t covered by mainstream news organisations including the New York Times and Buzzfeed. Facebook also did not investigate the full duration of time during which former curators interviewed by Gizmodo actually worked for the company. The company stated that “We could not reconstruct reliable data logs from before December 2014, so were unable to examine each of the reviewer decisions from that period.”

Sandberg emphasised how seriously the company is treating the accusations throughout her interview with Brooks.

“We think a lot about diversity,” she said. It’s something our industry has struggled with. We’ve struggled with. We have a managing bias class that all of our leaders and a lot of our employees have taken. We focused on age bias, racial bias, gender bias, nation bias, and we’re going to add in a scenario now on political bias.”

Despite Facebook’s efforts, the company reported abysmal diversity on its staff in 2015. According to Facebook’s own tally, the company staff is only 2 per cent black, 3 per cent hispanic, and 32 per cent women.

Sandberg ultimately remained optimistic about Facebook’s position as a traffic pipe to digital publishers. “We’re clear about the industry we’re in and the company we’re in,” Sandberg said. “We’re a tech company, we’re not a media company. We’re not trying to hire journalists and we’re not trying to write news.”