Catholic leaders ask: Did Facebook censor religious as well as conservative news?

Reuters

If true that Facebook routinely suppressed conservative news in its "trending news" section as alleged in a report earlier this month, could it be possible that the social media giant also excluded faith groups in the news selection process, even inadvertently?

The question was raised by some Catholic leaders after several former Facebook employees reportedly admitted that they had been given the freedom to "blacklist" topics that they personally did not want to appear in the 'trending news" section, the Catholic News Agency (CNA) reports.

It was earlier thought that the section contained news selected on the basis of interest shown by Facebook users.

The former Facebook news curators even reportedly revealed that they were sometimes instructed by their superiors to insert stories into the "trending" section that had not earned enough attention to be a trending topic.

Ashley McGuire, a Senior Fellow with The Catholic Association, said if true, the allegation that Facebook censored conservative as well as religious content is worrisome, noting that people's religious beliefs often inform their political views.

"Seeing as faith certainly informs the political views of many, Facebook's censorship will have religious implications for sure," she told CNA.

She said since the alleged Facebook censorship targeted conservative news, it might have also targeted religious news. This is because the Republican Party in the U.S. enjoys huge support from the religious bloc as attested in a recent Gallup poll. That study showed that 50 percent of GOP supporters identify themselves as highly religious, which is above the national average of 40 percent.

"Imagine all the Christians whose faith informs their pro-life views, for example, and their passion for the issue," McQuire said. "Have those voices been deleted or pushed out of sight?"

"Religion plays an important role in politics, and in censoring half of Americans, Facebook is also in a sense, censoring out the religious beliefs that inform their politics," she said.

The severity of the controversy was shown when the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, demanding answers to their questions about the site's news selection process.

Zuckerberg and other Facebook officials scrambled to deal with the issue, with Zuckerburg announcing that he would be meeting with conservative politicians and leaders to listen to their questions and concerns.

The company announced last week that an internal probe of its website's news selection process could not prove the alleged liberal bias.

Nevertheless, it vowed to make changes to the way trending topics are selected, including the elimination of a top-10 list of approved websites, more training and clearer guidelines to help human editors avoid ideological or political bias, and more robust review procedures.

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