I usually read tech/science site Ars Technica a couple of times a day. They generally do good reporting except when it comes to climate science—they’re all-in on catastrophic anthropogenic global warming and it’s not even funny. However, on the rare occasions when tech reporting crosses paths with politics, they’re all about maintaining the narrative.
Case in point was this article posted yesterday regarding Facebook’s “trending stories” feature which is now assembled via a computer algorithm, rather than human beings. Shortly after sacking the human beings, the top trending story was fake news about Fox News firing Megan Kelly for supporting Hillary Clinton for president.
Maintaining the Narrative
The lead paragraph of the story is false. And false in a way that attempts to spin history to attack conservatives.
Earlier this year, Facebook denied criticisms that its Trending feature was surfacing news stories that were biased against conservatives.
This wasn’t the charge that was made against Facebook. A simple Google search would explain the difference.
The Washington Post:
You can click on any of the screenshots to take you to the original story. But what everyone else got right at the time that Ars Technica is trying to re-write, is that the complaint wasn’t that the human editors were finding obscure stories that looked bad for conservatives and bringing them to the top. The complaint was that stories of interest to conservatives weren’t making the cut, even if they were generating sufficient interest that they should have.
From the original Gizmodo report:
The former curator was so troubled by the omissions that they kept a running log of them at the time; this individual provided the notes to Gizmodo. Among the deep-sixed or suppressed topics on the list: former IRS official Lois Lerner, who was accused by Republicans of inappropriately scrutinizing conservative groups; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; popular conservative news aggregator the Drudge Report; Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL who was murdered in 2013; and former Fox News contributor Steven Crowder. “I believe it had a chilling effect on conservative news,” the former curator said.
This is about suppressing conservative news, not artificially promoting “anti-conservative” news.
Were stories “biased against conservatives” being promoted by humans when the algorithm wasn’t “surfacing” them? The original Gizmodo story cites some examples of these promoted stories—and none of them had anything to do with conservative politics.
“If it looked like it had enough news sites covering the story, we could inject it—even if it wasn’t naturally trending.” Sometimes, breaking news would be injected because it wasn’t attaining critical mass on Facebook quickly enough to be deemed “trending” by the algorithm. Former curators cited the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris as two instances in which non-trending stories were forced into the module. Facebook has struggled to compete with Twitter when it comes to delivering real-time news to users; the injection tool may have been designed to artificially correct for that deficiency in the network. “We would get yelled at if it was all over Twitter and not on Facebook,” one former curator said.
In other instances, curators would inject a story—even if it wasn’t being widely discussed on Facebook—because it was deemed important for making the network look like a place where people talked about hard news. “People stopped caring about Syria,” one former curator said. “[And] if it wasn’t trending on Facebook, it would make Facebook look bad.” That same curator said the Black Lives Matter movement was also injected into Facebook’s trending news module.
This is all about creating, or maintaining, the narrative. The original story was that Facebook was suppressing news of interest to conservatives. Now a reporter at Ars Technica is attempting to re-write history 3 months later, trying to make it appear that Facebook was trying to use its trending news feature to embarrass conservatives.
Conservatives can’t be victims of media bias, they’re just complaining that Facebook was airing their dirty laundry.
Sorry, but conservatives were victims of media bias then, and Ars Technica’s “reporting” is making them victims again.