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Facebook Explains Its Trending News Curation Amid Leaks, Allegations Of Bias

AP Photo / Jeff Chiu

In a blog post on Facebook's newsroom site, Justin Oskofsky, the company's vice president of global operations, explained the role of news curators in choosing the trending news topics that appear in a module alongside users' news feeds. He wrote that Facebook "does not allow or advise our reviewers to discriminate against sources of any political origin, period."

"Topics that are eligible to appear in the product are surfaced by our algorithms, not people," he wrote. "This product also has a team of people who play an important role in making sure that what appears in Trending Topics is high-quality and useful."

Oskofsky went on to explain what, exactly, news curators do. He wrote that while stories are first flagged by an algorithm, they are then vetted by a team of news curators and targeted to individual Facebook users based on their interactions on the social media platform.

Here's how Oskofsky explained the role of news curators in vetting trending topics:

Confirm that the topic is tied to a current news event in the real world (for example, the topic “#lunch” is talked about during lunch every day around the world, but will not be a trending topic).

Write a topic description with information that is corroborated by reporting from at least three of a list of more than a thousand media outlets. A list of these media outlets is available here.

Apply a category label to the topic (e.g. sports, science) to help with personalized ranking and to enable suggestions grouped by category for the various tabs on the desktop version.

Check to see whether the topic is national or global breaking news that is being covered by most or all of ten major media outlets— and if it is, the topic is given an importance level that may make the topic more likely to be seen. A list of these outlets is available in the guidelines.

The explainer was published shortly after The Guardian reported on a leaked set of documents revealing the news curators' editorial process, including instructions for how to "inject" newsworthy stories into the trending news section and a list of 10 news outlets Facebook surveys to determine a topic's newsworthiness. Those outlets are BBC News, CNN, Fox News, The Guardian, NBC News, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Yahoo News.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the head of the Senate Commerce Committee, had also sent a list of questions about Facebook's news curation to CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, after a report in Gizmodo cited a former Facebook news curator who said he felt encouraged to suppress conservative news.