Yesterday, we reported on a story about a former “news curator” for Facebook who accused the social media site of suppressing conservative-leaning stories to keep them off of that “Trending” column you probably do your best to ignore anyway. Supposedly, Facebook’s predominantly liberal news curators would blacklist stories about Ted Cruz or Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and keep them off of the Trending column in favor of less-upsetting topics like whatever bullshit Justin Bieber was doing at the time. The story also accused Facebook of artificially “injecting” stories into the Trending section if they were deemed “important,” whether or not they were actually trending.
The revelation that Facebook’s trending topics thing isn’t the bastion of integrity that so many people inexplicably thought it was has rocked the world. Today, users are no longer sure if they can trust the veracity and neutrality of stories about a 30-year-old cat being named the world’s oldest living feline or a popular social media site being accused of suppressing conservative-leaning news stories. Oh, wait…
Now, the story has gotten big enough that an actual Republican politician is demanding answers about how Facebook selects its trending topics. According to CNN, Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota has sent a letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg requesting “a list of all news stories removed from or injected into the Trending Topics section since January 2014.” The letter also points out that “social networks such as Facebook are an increasingly important source of news for many Americans and people around the world” and that “Facebook has an enormous influence on users’ perceptions of current events, including political perspectives,” the subtext of which is pretty clear. Basically, it seems like Thune is concerned that Facebook is trying to manipulate the way people feel about politics, which could personally impact him come reelection season.
Facebook has released a statement, saying that it “[looks] forward to addressing [Thune’s] questions,” but here’s the twist: It doesn’t have to. America has a thing called the First Amendment, which gives Facebook the right to blacklist whatever trending topics it wants to. It’s under no obligation to keep the Trending section unbiased, and no matter how many publicity-grabbing letters politicians want to send to Mark Zuckerberg, the government can’t do anything about it. That means we’ll keep seeing hard-hitting, deeply important stories like “Nickelback is viewed more favorably than Donald Trump,” and Facebook doesn’t have to change that unless it wants to.