Is Facebook trending the wrong way?

Is Zuck amok?

Need to Know

It’s no secret that Facebook is manipulative. Aside from tweaking our news feed, tracking our browsing history, and insisting that we say “Happy birthday” to someone we met for five minutes ten years ago, however, the recent tempest around Facebook’s Trending Topics feature has become a story that just won’t quit.

First a brief recap. Earlier this month, Gizmodo published reports from a “whistleblower” who claimed that editors there were encouraged to suppress news of interest to conservative readers, despite the fact that they were organically trending. (All but one of the other former Facebook editors who leaked to Gizmodo denied the claims.)

One day later, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg asking that he “arrange for your staff including employees responsible for trending topics to brief committee staff on this issue.”

Tom Stocky, who heads Trending Topics, quickly denied the claims, and on May 12, Zuckerberg announced that he would be inviting conservative leaders to Facebook HQ to discuss the issue.

That summit occurred last Thursday, with Zuckerberg hosting a sit-down that included Glenn Beck, Dana Perino, and Tucker Carlson. Beck later reported that he believed “Facebook is behaving appropriately” and complained that, of his fellow conservatives, “not a single person in the room shared evidence of any wrongdoing.”

Responding to Beck’s accusations, Carlson promptly accused him of “auditioning to be Mark Zuckerberg’s manservant.” Clearly the meeting proved productive, just not for the right reasons.

Of course, all those political headwinds have tended to obscure the feature itself. On our most recent visit to the platform, Trending Topics was breaking important stories like Morrissey’s 57th birthday, drone footage of a tiger shark feeding frenzy, and something about Paris Hilton. The idea of turning to that inch-high sidebar for actual news would be akin to asking a five-year-old for career advice.

And a report in Friday’s New York Times reveals the likely, less-than-conspiratorial, truth behind the matter: “Trending Topics was a fledgling, ill-managed group — made up largely of recent college graduates with little work experience — where individual judgment of news was encouraged.”