Facebook staff throttled traffic to certain news websites, report says

Mark Zuckerberg told Facebook engineers to tweak its algorithm to throttle traffic to certain news websites, according to report 

  • Facebook planned to change their algorithm in 2017 to focus less on politics
  • It came after criticism over the spread of misinformation on the platform before the 2016 election
  • Yet Facebook executives were worried the change would have more of an effect on right-wing publications
  • CEO Mark Zuckerberg okayed another change in the algorithm to focus on more left-leaning publications, according to a WSJ report
  • It meant that left-leaning sites were more affected in the policy change than had originally been planned 

Facebook altered its algorithm to prevent articles from certain news websites from appearing on its newsfeed, a new report states. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, CEO Mark Zuckerberg approved the changes that would result in the websites receiving a cut in traffic and views three years ago. 

The move came after the social media giant originally announced in 2017 that it would be rejigging its newsfeed to minimize the presence of political news and focus instead on posts from friends and family. 

That decision was made in the wake of the 2016 election when Facebook had been accused of allowing sharing and posting of misinformation on its platform that affected voters.  

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg okayed a change in the social media site’s algorithm that would target certain news websites, according to a new report

The decision to change Facebook’s algorithm was made after the 2016 election

Yet, according to the WSJ, executives at Facebook were concerned that these algorithm changes would have more of an effect on right-wing publications, such as the Daily Wire, then those on the left. 

As a result, Zuckerberg approved engineers altering the algorithm once more, to redesign their intended changes so that left-leaning sites were more affected in the policy change than had originally been planned. 

Those affected, the WSJ states, included the site Mother Jones, among others. 

Zuckerberg has a personal relationship with Daily Wire co-founder Ben Shapiro, they add, although they could not be described as friends.  

‘We did not make changes with the intent of impacting individual publishers,’ a Facebook spokesman said. 

Another policy change just last August also angered progressive sites who claim that Zuckerberg is less accommodating to their agenda. 

The WSJ reports that Zuckerberg believed a new progressive news network, Courier Newsroom, which is part-owned by a left-leaning nonprofit with close ties to Democratic donors, was not a real news source because of its political ties. 

The discussion around the legitimacy of Courier Newsroom as a news source lead to the decision in the summer to limit the reach of partisan-backed sites on Facebook. 

This involved blocking their pages from inclusion in Facebook News, restricting their access to the Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp platforms and curtailing their advertising.

Acronym, the backer behind Courier Newsroom, claimed that this decision favored conservative sites. 

The company has also come under fire from progressives over the decision not to remove posts deemed as false from President Trump. 

Zuckerberg is said to have alienated the likes of his COO Sheryl Sandberg, pictured

The WSJ claims that Zuckerberg has lectured his more left-leaning staff that they must understand the core users of the site are more conservative when they are angered by the refusal to deal with the posts. 

It is said to have alienated even his COO Sheryl Sandberg and angered Joe Biden’s campaign.   

Last month Biden’s campaign manager sent Zuckerberg a letter calling Facebook ‘the nation’s foremost propagator of disinformation about the voting process’, the Journal reports. 

Biden himself as said he has ‘never been a big fan of Zuckerberg’.

The Facebook founder originally didn’t care for politics, the report adds, but now speaks regularly to Trump’s special adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and has pressed lawmakers to look into the actions of Facebook rivals, TikTok and Apple.   

Facebook has denied giving preference to any one political party, however. 

‘Any insinuation that Facebook accommodates any one political party over another is simply false,’ a Facebook spokesman told WSJ.  

‘Mark Zuckerberg believes strongly that the company must have rules in place to protect free expression, and that we continue to apply them impartially,’ the spokesman added. 

‘As CEO, part of his job is to work on policy issues and engage with Democratic and Republican policy makers, as well as other voices from across the political spectrum.’

Zuckerberg, pictured, speaks regularly to Trump’s special adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and has pressed lawmakers to look into the actions of rivals, TikTok and Apple

Conservative news has also argued for years that they are unduly censored on the platform compared to the left. 

‘I have not found any relationship at Facebook to be particularly beneficial to our business,’ said Jeremy Boreing, co-founder and co-CEO at the Daily Wire, told the WSJ. 

He also said that the site’s fact-checking program was at times ‘wholly inaccurate’ and caused ‘serious losses’ for Daily Wire.   

The social media giant has come under fire in recent years due to the content its users share and Zuckerberg’s previous insistence that the company should take a hands-off approach to protect free speech. 

After the complaints regarding the 2016 election, however, he has taken a more hands-on approach to the upcoming vote, making changes that have been criticized on both sides of the aisle.  

Zuckerberg was said to have been actively involved in the decision to ban political ads on Facebook in the week leading up to the election. 

The company has also said it will suspend all political ads after polls close on Election Day and limit posts about poll-watching operations that ‘use militarized language or suggest that the goal is to intimidate, exert control, or display power’. 

Just this week, the company banned posts that deny or distort the Holocaust and will start directing people to authoritative sources if they search for information about the Nazi genocide.

Zuckerberg announced the new policy Monday, the latest attempt by the company to take action against conspiracy theories and misinformation with the U.S. presidential election just three weeks away.

The decision comes amid a push by Holocaust survivors around the world who lent their voices to a campaign targeting Zuckerberg beginning this summer, urging him to take action to remove Holocaust denial posts from the social media site.

It also came the same week that Facebook, and its rival Twitter, faced harsh criticism from Trump over the decision to limit the spread of the story published by the conservative-leaning New York Post about the son of his rival Joe Biden. 

The story cited unverified emails from Hunter Biden that were reportedly discovered by President Trump’s allies. 

The story has not been confirmed by other publications.  

Facebook said it was ‘reducing’ the story’s distribution on its platform while waiting for third-party fact-checkers to verify it, something it regularly does with material that’s not banned outright from its service, though it risks spreading lies or causing harm in other ways.

Trump criticized Facebook this week for the decision to limit sharing of a New York Post article that claimed the have incriminating emails about his rival Joe Biden’s Ukraine dealings  

Yet Trump was unhappy with the site, tweeting that it was ‘terrible’ they would stop circulation of the story and threatening to repeal Section 230, the bill that protects Facebook from liability for what users post on the platform. 

Even offline, Zuckerberg has angered conservatives.  

Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, on Tuesday donated an additional $100million to helping local election offices prepare for November. 

Yet some conservatives are stepping up their efforts to stop the funds from being used and have filed lawsuits against it. 

Separately, the Senate Commerce Committee confirmed Friday it will hold an October 28 hearing with Zuckerberg and the chief executives of Twitter and Google parent Alphabet Inc and will look at ‘how best to preserve the internet as a forum for open discourse.’

The companies previously confirmed the executives would remotely appear at the hearing. 

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