Facebook is in full damage control mode this week, following a brewing scandal over whether or not the Trending Topics it surfaces are politically biased. Now, it’s bringing in the big guns: Mark Zuckerberg.
In a Facebook post published Thursday night, Zuckerberg said Facebook has found no evidence that its employees have been intentionally suppressing conservative content in its Trending Topics section, as was alleged in a recent report.
Still, he said the company would launch a full investigation to ensure that there’s been no foul play. And if there has been, Zuckerberg wrote, “you have my commitment that we will take additional steps to address it.”
Zuckerberg also said the company would be inviting “leading conservatives and people from across the political spectrum” to come to Facebook and discuss these issues in person. “I want to have a direct conversation about what Facebook stands for and how we can be sure our platform stays as open as possible,” he wrote.
Facebook is no stranger to politics, but most often, that relationship has involved Facebook lobbying Washington for changes that would be beneficial to its business, because powerful as Facebook is, it still needs government’s help to grow.
Here, we’re seeing the inverse of that relationship in action. Political leaders now need Facebook to disseminate their policies and perspectives. Any indication that that important communication channel is being tampered with can feel like an existential threat.
But the perception that such a thing is happening would be just as big a threat to Facebook, which millions of people trust to deliver them the news they need and want to read.
“The reason I care so much about this is that it gets to the core of everything Facebook is and everything I want it to be,” Zuckerberg writes. “Every tool we build is designed to give more people a voice and bring our global community together.”
Since the initial report was released, Facebook has published its guidelines for Trending Topics, and to us, at least, these guidelines look less like Facebook is doing anything nefarious and more like Facebook is, well, exercising news judgment because, whether it admits as much, Facebook is now in the news business.
In order for a topic to be eligible for Trending Topics, it must be surfaced by the company’s algorithms, based on how much engagement it’s getting. Then, the editorial team vets those topics to make sure that, for instance, they’re cited by multiple trustworthy sources and are tied to real events. For Facebook, this kind of transparency is key, and arguably, should have been a matter of public knowledge from the beginning.
In his post, Zuckerberg reiterated his mantra that “the world is better when people from different backgrounds and with different ideas all have the power to share their thoughts and experiences.”
“For as long as I’m leading this company,” he added, “this will always be our mission.” It’s a reminder that, just as it was with Steve Jobs and Apple, when it comes to Facebook, Zuckerberg gets the last say. So, he’s asking people to trust that he will make the right decisions for them, because this is not just Facebook’s mission, it’s his personal mission, too. But as we know well—especially in an election cycle like this one—that kind of blind trust is tough to earn and easier to lose.