WASHINGTON – A four-month WND study of Facebook traffic and engagement patterns of prominent alternative news sites with a more “conservative” perspective confirms recent charges that the social-media giant actually ignores its own rules and guidelines at the expense of these online enterprises.
The issue of Facebook bias erupted just recently when former staffers who worked on the company’s Trending Topics fixture said in a report in the tech blog Gizmodo they were told to suppress certain conservative issues, and promote liberal topics.
The company explained that the Trending Topics stories are picked by a software formula, and then reviewed by staff members, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg first denied the social network’s editors suppress conservative news from its website feature.
He said he couldn’t find evidence to support the concerns.
Facebook Vice President of Search Tom Stocky went further, denying the allegations, writing on the site:
“My team is responsible for Trending Topics, and I want to address today’s reports alleging that Facebook contractors manipulated Trending Topics to suppress stories of interest to conservatives. We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true.”
But statistics generated by Facebook itself may conflict with that determination.
And WND CEO Joseph Farah said a meeting is a good idea.
“If Zuckerberg wants to meet with someone whose business was victimized by his company, he just needs to tell me where the meeting is,” he said.
WND used data provided by Facebook itself to page managers (Facebook.com/WNDNews) in its insights tab, and tracked several news sites through the Pages to Watch feature since the start of 2016.
The result uncovered was that, even though the number of “likes” on such sites has gone up, the rates of engagement have gone down.
WND compared the performance of the WND page posts and posts with similar pages on Facebook to track weekly growth and engagement versus the growth and engagement of competitors.
This offers insight on how WND, and other companies like TheBlaze.com, DailyCaller.com, Breitbart.com and IJReview.com are performing on Facebook through the metrics of Total Page Likes and the Engagement for the week the page had.
Facebook defines Engagement rate as the percentage of people who saw a post and reacted to, shared, clicked or commented on it. Factors that influence engagement rate include users’ comments, shares and likes.
WND divided engagement by total page likes to get the engagement as percentage of fan base number. This was the manner WND tried to determine the value of increasing the total likes for a fan page. For competitive analysis, WND wanted to measure growth versus similar pages.
At the end of January 2016:
- TheBlaze.com had 1.8 million likes and an engagement rate of 27.59 percent (of the total fan base)
- Breitbart.com had 1.6 million likes and an engagement rate of 100 percent
- WND.com had 568,000 likes and an engagement rate of 38.47 percent
- DailyCaller.com had 1.4 million likes and an engagement rate of 41.58 percent
- Washington Free Beacon had 621,300 likes and an engagement rate of 27.97 percent
- Washington Examiner had 599,000 likes and an engagement rate of 43.29.
As of May 9, 2016, the drops in activity were significant in most cases.
As of that date, WND had compiled a sample-size of four months of data to showcase how engagement for those news sites had seen significant drops in engagement, seemingly supporting accusations by former Facebook employees of internal newsfeed tampering.
As of May 9, 2016:
- TheBlaze.com had 1.9 million likes and an engagement rate of 15.79 percent (of the total fan base)
- Breitbart.com had 1.9 million likes and an engagement rate of 60 percent
- WND.com had 738,800 likes and an engagement rate of 23.89 percent
- DailyCaller.com had 1.98 million likes and an engagement rate of 13.74 percent
- Washington Free Beacon had 706,800 likes and an engagement rate of 20.80 percent
- Washington Examiner had 616,500 likes and an engagement rate of 19.46 percent
All of the pages increased in total number of likes, most of the increases in double digits or more.
But all saw sharp decreases in overall fan base engagement, meaning fewer and fewer pages appeared on news feeds for readers to see and engage with (share, like, or comment).
It was in Gizmodo that a former Facebook journalist reported the outlet regularly prevented stories about Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, CPAC – the Conservative Political Action Conference – and other topics of major interest to conservatives from posting in its “trending” news section, one of the most-read and heavily trafficked sites on the Internet.
Other former “news curators” who worked for Facebook as independent contractors told Gizmodo they were told to “inject” certain stories into the trending news spot, despite the fact they weren’t trending hot at all.
Among the news injected into feeds was everything concerning “Black Lives Matter.”
“Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter,” the former curator told Gizmodo. “They realized it was a problem, and they boosted it in the ordering. They gave it preference over other topics.”
As Gizmodo put it: “In other words, Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. 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.'”
The revelations came to light after another Gizmodo story last week reported how most of Facebook’s news team came through Ivy League colleges or private East Coast universities. The job of the curators is to write headlines and summaries of each trending news story, then link the text to the news site.
“Depending on who was on shift,” one former curator told Gizmodo, “things would be blacklisted or trending.
“I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz.”