Documents show Facebook axed update that hurt traffic to right-wing sites — then lied about it
Mark Zuckerberg (AFP)

On Monday, Gizmodo released a new tranche of documents from the so-called "Facebook Papers" — providing new evidence that the company lied about killing an update to the newsfeed feature that would have prevented fake news from spreading, but that also happened to hurt traffic to right-wing websites.

"One source with direct knowledge of the discussions recalled a potential update that employees believed would reduce the flow of 'fake or hoax news stories,'" reported Dell Cameron, Shoshana Wodinsky, and Mack DeGeurin. "A slew of right-wing pages had been flagged by Facebook’s algorithmic moderation system for habitually spreading falsehoods, they said. Afraid of upsetting conservatives, however, Facebook had shelved the update, and many decisions around the election were 'caught up in that,' the source said."

Facebook itself has denied this allegation, with a spokesperson saying, “We did not build and withhold any News Feed changes based on their potential impact on any one political party.”

But according to the report, internal documents reveal otherwise.

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"An internal post dated August 2019 briefly describes the decision by Facebook to kill a News Feed update purportedly designed to prioritize 'high quality' news," said the report. "In this case, Facebook obtained the underlying data responsible for gauging the trustworthiness of news sources by polling users. The company came to the decision not to reduce the flow of 'low quality' news to stave off charges from 'some quarters' about 'perceived anti-conservative bias,' according to the post. The same document shows employees estimating only 2 percent of hate speech was blocked by the site, and most misinformation got wide distribution before being flagged."

"Asked about the discrepancy between the company’s prior claims and the once-confidential testimony of its own employees, a Facebook spokesperson declined to comment," noted the report.

Another leaked Facebook memo last October reveals that the company is aware more damaging information about its internal practices is coming, with Facebook global affairs VP Nick Clegg warning that upcoming news stories will "contain mischaracterizations of our research, our motives and where our priorities lie."

You can read more here.