Senate committee presses Facebook on handling of conservative news

A top Senate Republican is pressing Facebook to explain how it curates news for its Trending Topics feature in response to a report that the company’s employees may have suppressed stories related to conservatives.

The leader of the chamber’s Commerce Committee, Sen. John Thune, said in a statement the social network “must answer these serious allegations,” first reported by Gizmodo, “and hold those responsible to account if there has been political bias in the dissemination of trending news.”

“Any attempt by a neutral and inclusive social media platform to censor or manipulate political discussion is an abuse of trust and inconsistent with the values of an open Internet,” Thune said.

In an accompanying letter, Thune asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to detail how his company staffs the team that manages the news feature, how it chooses stories and how it “investigates claims of politically motivated manipulation.” The Republican asked Facebook to submit its responses no later than May 24.

“Trending Topics is designed to surface popular conversations — no matter where they fall on the political spectrum — and our guidelines require the review team members to allow all points of view,” a Facebook spokesman said in a statement. He said the company takes the allegations seriously and is “continuing to investigate whether any violations took place,” adding it will take “immediate steps” to fix any practices that are found to be “inadequate.”

“We have received Sen. Thune’s request for more information about how Trending Topics works, and look forward to addressing his questions,” the spokesman said.

Minority Leader Harry Reid’s office quickly slammed the GOP move.

“The Republican Senate refuses to hold hearings on Judge Garland, refuses to fund the President’s request for Zika aid and takes the most days off of any Senate since 1956, but thinks Facebook hearings are a matter of urgent national interest,” Adam Jentleson, a top aide to Reid, said in a statement. “The taxpayers who pay Republican senators’ salaries probably want their money back.”

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