Facebook takes on critics with political bias class

After allegations it suppressed conservative views, social network adds training for employees

After facing allegations that it was actively suppressing conservative views, Facebook has responded by adding an employee training class focused on political bias.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg announced the addition of the political bias class to the company's ongoing course on Managing Unconscious Bias during a talk she gave at the American Enterprise Institute, according to The Daily Signal.

"We have a managing bias class that all of our leaders and a lot of our employees have taken that I was part of helping to create," Sandberg said. "And we focused on racial bias, age bias, gender bias, national bias, and we're going to add in a scenario now on political bias.

"So as we think about helping people understand different points of view and being open to different points of view, we're dealing with political bias as well going forward," The Daily Signal quoted Sandberg as saying.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the political bias class.

The move comes about six weeks after allegations of political bias at Facebook surfaced in the tech blog Gizmodo.

Citing an anonymous source who reportedly used to work on Facebook's Trending Topics team, Gizmodo alleged that the company's news curators were encouraged to leave stories that might be more interesting to conservative readers off the Trending Topics list and to replace them with stories that weren't popular enough to have normally made the list.

After that report surfaced, Sen. John Thune (R-SD), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, sent Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg an open letter asking several questions about the way Facebook places stories in Trending Topics.

Calling social networks an "an increasingly important source of news," Thune asked who makes decisions about what stories make Trending Topics and if stories have been excluded because of political reasons.

Facebook was quick to say it investigated the allegations and found no evidence of their validity.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said that even though no evidence surfaced supporting the allegations, adding a political bias class for employees is a good idea.

"The accusations have sensitized people and this is a good way of addressing them," he said. "It certainly is intended to placate critics, or at least to placate those who believe the critics. However, given how much politics is dominating people's feelings right now, handling it well is important for Facebook's business."

During the current presidential campaign in the U.S., political stories and comments are driving a lot of Facebook activity.

"Passions are running high," said Gottheil. "It can affect behavior and, to the extent that behavior is visible to users, it can affect the product."

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
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