Zuckerberg invites top conservatives to talk and denies Facebook bias

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced that he plans to invite “leading conservatives and people from across the political spectrum” to talk with him about accusations of political bias at the social media company.

Zuckerberg made the announcement Thursday evening in a Facebook post that continued to deny the allegations of bias, and the claim that the Facebook trending topics team suppresses conservative news.

“We have found no evidence that this report is true,” he wrote. “If we find anything against our principles, you have my commitment that we will take additional steps to address it.”

On Monday, Gizmodo reported that contracted workers at Facebook “routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers” and artificially “inject” stories into the trending topics section, citing anonymous former “news curators”.

Zuckerberg’s statement is a sign of how damaging the allegations are to a company that, despite serving as a news source for millions of people, maintains that it is a neutral tech company.

On Tuesday, Facebook’s vice president for search Tom Stocky addressed the controversy in a post of his own, denying allegations of bias and writing: “We do not insert stories artificially into trending topics, and do not instruct our reviewers to do so.”

But early on Thursday, the Guardian obtained Facebook’s internal guidelines for the trending topics section that contradicted Stocky’s statement. The documents include instructions for how curators can “inject” or “blacklist” topics in the trending topics.

“The editorial team CAN [sic] inject a newsworthy topic in the event that something is attracting a lot of attention, such as #BlackLivesMatter,” the guidelines state.

Facebook vice president for global operations Justin Osofsky subsequently posted his own blog post about the editorial guidelines – which were released – and specified that many topics are rejected because they “reflect what is considered ‘noise’”.

Zuckerberg’s statement – the third dispatch from a company executive in just four days – did not address the question of Facebook’s editorial practices, but instead focused on the question of political bias against conservative viewpoints.

The CEO made headlines in April for making a veiled critique of presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the company’s annual developer conference.

Though he never mentioned Trump by name, Zuckerberg’s remarks about “fearful voices talking about building walls” were widely interpreted to be a reference to Trump.

“Instead of building walls we can help build bridges,” he added. “Instead of dividing people we can connect people. It takes courage to chose hope over fear.”

On 5 May, Facebook announced that it would sponsor both the Republican and Democratic national conventions this summer, citing the social media platforms goal of “facilitat[ing] an open dialogue among voters, candidates and elected officials”.

Zuckerberg struck a similar tone in Thursday afternoon’s post.

“Every tool we build is designed to give more people a voice and bring our global community together,” he wrote. “For as long as I’m leading this company this will always be our mission.”

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