Utahns weigh in on Facebook trending news section controversy

Posted at 6:29 PM, May 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-10 20:29:13-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Turns out, there could be a little more to that trending news section on your Facebook page.

A former Facebook employee told tech news site Gizmodo that a small team of news curators could decide to blacklist certain topics and most of the time that meant blocking conservative stories.

Pete Ashdown, founder of local internet services provider, Xmission, explained how it works, Tuesday.

"Everything that you see on Facebook on your wall is based on some mathematical algorithms," Ashdown said.

Ashdown explained the algorithms are overseen by employees to make sure they're appropriate and indeed trending. It's common for companies to buy this visibility; essentially, paying Facebook to get their story promoted.

"Doing that on their own without anyone paying them to do it was an editorial decision of Facebook’s," Ashdown said.

Boyd Matheson, president of Utah-based conservative think tank Sutherland Institute, said what’s most concerning to them, is the fact that Facebook has always claimed to be a neutral, open-minded system.

"It’s certainly fine for them to say we’re going to focus on liberal content. That’s no problem at all. It just needs to be a little more transparent so people know what they’re actually getting," Matheson said.

Facebook has responded by saying: "There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality. These guidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives."

No matter what you believe, it's probably best to get your news from more than one source.

"Try and get as much information as possible and that means going off of Facebook and finding other information sources," Ashdown said.

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee has sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting answers to some questions it has about the trending topics section.