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Facebook reportedly choked traffic for left-leaning news sites (theverge.com)
173 points by aaronbrethorst 5 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 91 comments

This makes me feel very frustrated. Facebook logic seems "As we have to remove QAnnon posts, we will also remove Extinction Rebellion posts.

They are NOT equivalent! One is a cult that promotes terrorism the other one is a environmentalist group that calls for civil disobedience. One calls for the kidnapping and assassination of politicians, the other one for walk-ins on roads to get media attention. One calls for a war on race the other on improving the environment.

Both are in the "extremes" of some political compass but are not equivalent by any sane interpretation.

"Enlighted Centrism" is a recurring joke. Facebook is just punching down on the working class and the left because they do not respond to the citizens but to other mega-rich people and corporations.

I cannot wait for Facebook to be strongly regulated, and to be forbidded to run an advertisement company with data stolen from its users.

>Both are in the "extremes" of some political compass but are not equivalent by any sane interpretation.

This seems to have a pretty long tradition in the US, it seems like the political or ethical version of what often happens in science discourse, where creationism and evolution are treated as equally reasonable debate positions and so on.

The only yardstick seems to be "how many people are offended" rather than standing by scientific principle or the standards and rules of their platform. If 90% of misinformation and inhumane content comes out of one political camp it should make the people in that camp think, not Facebook.

What they're doing is censoring anything that upsets anyone (including themselves) because every mainstream political voice has been demanding that they censor people, and threatening to attack the company financially if they don't.

I don't want them censoring anyone if they're not then held liable for the content they do publish. If they're going to exercise editorial powers, let them take editorial responsibility. This is not an option they're being given. Instead they've been told that the biggest offense they can commit is failing to delete.

That isn't how it works - the platform/publisher duality is a complete fiction. Or would you prefer that filtering spam and viruses makes your email provider a complicit party to any wirefraud conducted using it?


> One is a anti-paedophilia movement

That is how some people think, they are demonstrably wrong. There are things that are true and things that are false, not everything is an opinion.

The scientific method helps to see that your comment, that is a real feeling of many people, is not true.

That people is for sure sharing comments like yours in Facebook, and Facebook is promoting that comments for "engagement" shows how much Facebook needs to be regulated. Splitting Facebook and regulating it is not going to solve the problem overnight, but it is going to be a good step in the right direction.

Are they going to provide evidence, here? This is thin as water.

Facebook has been making life miserable for everyone by being entirely unpredictable in its ad provision and targeting. The rules and algorithms change willy-nilly, and reliable engagement is nigh impossible, and even more so when the media landscape of the left is fragmented across many separate sources and the media of the right is very centralized.

If we could see aggregate numbers for left/right, we'd get better answers. But somehow I doubt they can or will make those numbers known.

Quote from WSJ story:

"In late 2017, when Facebook tweaked its newsfeed algorithm to minimize the presence of political news, policy executives were concerned about the outsize impact of the changes on the right, including the Daily Wire, people familiar with the matter said. Engineers redesigned their intended changes so that left-leaning sites like Mother Jones were affected more than previously planned, the people said. Mr. Zuckerberg approved the plans. “We did not make changes with the intent of impacting individual publishers,” a Facebook spokesman said."


That doesn't tell us it was targeted - perhaps that's not the explicit claim the article makes, but it is certainly implied. If Facebook can't control the impressions for each ad partner, it's likely more than just Mother Jones were affected. If their algorithms are bad enough, driving people off the platform, that might also contribute to declines. (This is one major reason I no longer use FB: it can no longer serve any of the baseline purposes it was intended for, because of how poorly its feed algorithms work.)

The Verge is a Vox owned website. They do some good reporting but they’re not the most impartial.

What does an impartial website look like? How does one have a website that sees no particular group as more correct than any other?

In order to determine impartiality you have to use your brain to think through what the themes of every article coming from the paper are. An impartial source of news will be critical of both sides, a biased source of news is only critical of one.

Bias doesn't necessarily make the news wrong but it does mean the news is framed in a way to benefit one particular group or another.

There are plenty of articles that criticize "both sides" on topics where only one side has done wrong.

Check out the hill. They do a decent job of representing many different viewpoints without being alarmist. Opinion pieces are pretty clearly differentiated from reporting pieces.

apnews.com or reuters.com seem to be pretty impartial, since they are intended to be wire services.

"left-leaning sites" is not an individual publisher.

> left-leaning sites like Mother Jones

It's not clear if they are quoting the engineers here, but that sounds like an individual publisher to me.

Notice the careful wording:

>policy executives were concerned about the outsize impact of the changes on the right, including the Daily Wire

This could be reworded: the initial implementation primarily punished right-wing news organizations, especially the Daily Wire, but someone noticed and complained

>Engineers redesigned their intended changes so that left-leaning sites like Mother Jones were affected more than previously planned

Engineers decided that it would be good to censor far-left propaganda outfits like Mother Jones as well, if they were going to censor the Right, since someone complained, instead of only censoring the Right, so they changed their algorithm to be somewhat more critical of e.g. Mother Jones than the original algorithm, leaving the final implementation ... a black box that censors some political voices and not others.

Fast forward three years, to this week. Consider the NY Post Hunter Biden corruption story that hopefully you've heard about by now. Now it's clear Facebook and Twitter have no problem blocking an "individual publisher" founded in 1801 in the final weeks before an election, when anything is permitted to stop the "fascist" Donald Trump from winning another election, if said newspaper publishes information that might make Joe Biden look bad.

Who on earth thinks Mother Jones is a far left propaganda outfit?

David Corn was the first journalist to directly quote the Steele dossier in the lead-up to the 2016 election, in Mother Jones. We now know that the Steele dossier was propaganda.


I struggle to define “propaganda,” but Mother Jones is decidedly far left.

The same person who hopes that we have read an NY Post smear article about the next president's son, perhaps.

Whatever my personal feelings on the matter, I consider the president of the us to be irrefutably "mainstream"

Literally almost everyone except you. Even my far left friends agree it is far left.

People who think Hillary Clinton was a radical communist.

> publishes information that might make Joe Biden look bad

There is credible information that this information is a part of a Russian disinformation effort to influence the campaign.

Now whether it's true or not is irrelevant. If the FBI has warned this information is suspect and is actively investigating then it is only appropriate for Facebook to err on the side of caution. Especially given we are weeks from an election.

> There is credible information that this information is a part of a Russian disinformation effort to influence the campaign.

I went looking for this and found this recent CNN article that looked promising. [1] But it does not mention any evidence (credible or otherwise) tying the laptop to Russians. It notes various weaknesses in the story, most notably that the emails were in image form, so contained no headers. But even if the emails were completely fabricated, that doesn't implicate Russians. Can you point me to the credible information you referenced?

1: https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/16/politics/russian-disinformati...

> There is credible information that this information is a part of a Russian disinformation effort to influence the campaign.

Have you made this up in advance to justify the censorship, or do you have a reference?

The FBI seems to be taking that allegation seriously enough to investigate


The FBI investigates all allegations of this nature, it is not a statement on if they are credible or not.

Yet there is no indication that that is the basis on which the story was initially slowed, and no indication that they apply that consistently.

The story was suppressed because it materials were allegedly obtained by hackers.

That is the initial story Twitter gave. It is not the claim Facebook made.

You are correct. Facebook claimed it's a bombshell too close to the elections so they need to verify with 3rd party "fact checkers".

>>Now whether it's true or not is irrelevant

No that is extremely relevant, for it to be "disinformation" it would need to be false

If the information is true, then the public should be informed about it, at the point the source is irrelevant.

I cant believe you discount or ignore corruption because was reveled by "evil Russia"

Some how I believe if the Russians where talking about Trump your sensibilities would be much different.. Not that I believe this NY Post story is some Russian plot because I dont,

I guess they should also withhold information about the existence of Hunter Biden and that he 'allegedly' worked for a Ukrainian oil company. We don't want the dear leader looking bad right before we place him on the throne. Once he's in, we can brazen it out..

This is the same party that gave us "you have to pass the law to know what is in it..." so...

You have to elect them before you know anything about them...

Seems like a good way to get the best leaders

The fact that there's little evidence is itself the problem. Facebook is manipulating the reach of some news sources over others but their methodology is completely opaque. The choices about how the news feed works can't be entirely free of a subjective understanding of how the world works so the question isn't "is the new feed biased?", it's "how is it biased?". Without transparency, speculating is the only route we have to ask that question.

At this point we know that Facebook has the potential to significantly influence political discourse with the choices it makes. The fact that those choices are hidden is a problem but a bigger problem is the influence itself. No privately held company should ever be allowed this level of (potential/actual) influence on political discourse.

As a person interested in guns, media platforms have been nothing but killing access to them: deplatforming, hiding, unpublishing, fake strikes, whatnot.

Ie perhaps it's more that people are not that interested in the left (not surprising since it's not a centrist viewpoint) if they can't give the same kind of concrete proofs.

Here we are again, discussing politics in our tech forum. Why? Because we invented brain washing machines. Social media married w/ Algorithms and AI.

The bigger story here is that these brainwashing machines are susceptible to being manipulated by their owners to meet their own subjective needs.

It gets even worse, because these are for-profit companies, the brain washing machines are being rented out to the highest bidder.

Even worse than that the owners of these machines are being pressured and manipulated by others, in power, to affect outcomes that, as it turns out, are probably not in the best interest of the public at large.

+5 insightful. The fact that Facebook has a big "politicial bias" lever at all is bad news. And automated individualized targeted political advertising is a horrifying tool as well. "Brainwashing machines" is a nice way of putting it.

Instead of creating some sort of government/non-profit censorship API and giving up the controls to content censorship, they are playing this censor role that will never have an end. Nobody will ever be satisfied. If they were smart they would say something like the ISPs: Hey, we're just providing the infra, we don't control the content and point the finger at the government.

Is it really profitable to have this information flow controller? Don't they just want to sell ads?

Look, I know it's not that simple. But why not do this?

They need to control the content at least in a rudimentary way, they would be swamped by waves of commercial spam otherwise.

Ofc, once you can remove classic Viagra ads, you established your ability to control content to some degree. From that point on, you cannot really assert that you are a common carrier.

You could assert your allegiance to the 1st amendment, though.

What's happened in the past is the old media or social media or both will latch on to your most outrageous user. They'll make headlines about them, all the while including your company's name in the story. It will get bad enough that advertisers threaten to pull out to show their support for the cause of de-platforming evil.

The platform that chooses not to de-platform its worst users has lower fitness than the platform that goes along with it. Would you rather your ad revenue look like that of Twitter or that of Gab?

Because then they get stuck defending scoundrels, and it's untenable. The ACLU has (had?) the guts to defend a nazi's right to free speech, a profit seeking corp is less likely.

So they get pushed into this position where they're stuck at the border of acceptable where half the people think they're censoring and half think it's only right.

Because advertisers.

This shouldn't be terribly surprising. CrowdTangle, an analytics tool by Facebook, regularly reports that all of the top ten stories and links in the US are right leaning.

Take for example Facebook's top ten for the last ten days, per the New York Times' Kevin Roose's tracker. These are self reported by Facebook's CrowdTangle:

Today, 10/16, most of the news is explicitly partisan and right leaning, one post by Dan Rather: https://twitter.com/FacebooksTop10/status/131751290168337612...

10/15: similar mix, https://twitter.com/FacebooksTop10/status/131711759703326720...

10/14: https://twitter.com/FacebooksTop10/status/131674996947526861...

It goes on and on. Scroll through the Facebook Top 10 account and you'll see right leaning, sometimes far right pundits, at greater volume and (if these links follow the typical power distribution) far, far greater attention and traffic than any even moderate or neutral news source, let alone anyone comparably left wing.

Sorry but you’re spreading misinformation in this post. Beyond the fact that your interpretation doesn’t follow from the evidence you’ve provided, as pointed out by the neighbor post, you’ve misstated what CrowdTangle is measuring.

All of the top 10 links shared on FB in a week typically consists of NPR/NYT/TMZ etc. Recently the left leaning website MoveOn was in the top 3 (source: https://twitter.com/tomgara/status/1310314212078620680?s=21).

Shapiro or Bongino are never near the top 10 in terms of link engagement - the metric they do well on is sum total page engagement. Which makes sense - anecdotally, most of me and my left leaning millennial peers are getting our online political engagement from Twitter and Instagram. AOC is a sensation on Insta, Bongino is not.

I see you’re relying on Kevin Roose for your information - unfortunately he’s an absolute spigot of misinformation. I made the same mistake in the past, until I took a deeper look into these issues, and found most of what he says to be totally wrong. I hope you, and others, will reconsider taking him at face value in the future.

It sounds like you're agreeing with me: right wing news pages have far greater reach and popularity, in part because they game the system (as the Daily Wire does, for example, by amplifying its page traffic by reshares.)

It should still concern you that no Facebook page rivals these right wing pages. Just because a given URL might break into the top 10 URLs for a day doesn't affect that these pages dominate news feed volume.

If you go to Dan Bongino's Facebook page, you'll see why his page doesn't show up in the by-URL analysis: most of his content is not links to external content, but in-Facebook content. So I'm not sure why it's "misinformation" to point that his page has enormous amounts of traffic, and I think it's misleading to say that it doesn't because grouping by a metric that excludes that traffic.

It seems pretty unfair to argue, "If you just aggregate the data by a dimension that's null for these right wing pages, you'll find they tend to disappear!"

Top 10 lists can be misleading. If there are fewer popular right-leaning news sources, then all the right-leaning audience will be concentrated there, pushing them into the top 10, while the left's audience is diluted.

Like splitting the vote, or how Muhammed (and alternative spellings) is the most popular baby name in the UK: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/muhammed-rea...

You would have to look at the total story popularity, not just the top 10, to make any kind of conclusion.

I call bs. I keep being bombarded with left wing ideology despite constantly clicking to remove it. It's the right wing stuff that's being removed. This kind of article tries to hide the truth by falsely claiming that the content that's being promoted is being removed. This is a distraction.


I love how all of the other comments are saying Facebook is in Trump's pocket.

I'm sorry, did we already forget what Facebook censored this past week?


You’re right, given the behavior we’ve seen from major tech platforms this week it is totally conspiratorial for a journalist to report on discoveries related to nefarious activity.


That NY Post story isn't credible at all - if you think it is, you've been successfully duped (as designed.)

Whether it's credible or not isn't relevant here. The supposition by the original poster is that Facebook is anti-left, but their actions showing that they did something very anti-right recently flies in the face of that supposition. Perhaps there is misinformation on both the left and the right and Facebook's algorithms are acting correctly for once?

I did not post to imply that the story is credible or not, only as a counterpoint to the article, which claims a 'right' bias. Unfortunately, the discourse is so toxic that almost any statement earns kneejerk downvotes from one side or the other.

And yet the Biden campaign has not denied the authenticity of the email, nor that the laptop was owned by Hunter Biden. Weird!

It's called refusing to play on your opponent's turf. It's smart.

That doesn't compute, and I say it as a Biden voter. So, is the email authentic or not? How is not denying it evidence for anything other that it being authentic?

If Biden says it's not, then the right says it is, all the headlines pick up this back and forth, another conspiracy story runs, starts a new cycle of nonsense, and soon there is nothing left in the discussion, but many more people see headlines.

Instead, simply not getting sucked into this game, and instead putting out other stories or plans, like how one will deal with COVID, or the economy, or our allies, helps suffocate the story.

The latter is a wiser move, especially given Trump and co's like of conspiracy talk.

If Biden did dignify it with a response, the average HN contrarian would yell "Streisand effect!" instead of "why isn't he denying it?"

You are getting downvoted because logically (and evidently) they could be doing both.


You've been breaking the HN guidelines a lot lately. We ban accounts that do that, and we've had to ask you about this multiple times before. You've been doing it mostly for political battle but not only—for example, gratuitous nasty swipes like https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24724475 are not ok either.

Would you mind reviewing the site guidelines? Note these ones:

"Comments should get more thoughtful and substantive, not less, as a topic gets more divisive."

"Please don't fulminate. Please don't sneer, including at the rest of the community."

"Please don't use uppercase for emphasis. If you want to emphasize a word or phrase, put asterisks around it and it will get italicized."

"Please don't use Hacker News for political or ideological battle. It tramples curiosity."


Thank you for the callout. I appreciate the warning, and the direct point to the guidelines.

You're absolutely right, I have been tense and short-sighted, and have been in complete and blatant violation of each of the first 4 points you mentioned.

I will take care to be more restrained with my emotion and contribute more productively and with substance.

However I must say I do not know how to react to that last line, and I propose that this guideline is well-intentioned but too broad. I grew up (and I'm sure most HN posters did) at a time when we considered "politics" as something that is totally distinct from science and technology. What attracted us to tech was the meritocracy, the purity of ideas, the ability to pursue and explore that curiousity and creativity.

Yet...the last decade has revealed at least some new truths that responsible technologists can ill-afford to ignore:

1) Technology cannot be disassociated from politics if it is wielded for political purpose.

2) Science has become politicized, and subjects like "climate change", "alternative energy", etc, are actively stifled for political reasons, so cannot be explored or developed without acknowledging their political counterarguments.

3) Ignoring political subjects that are independent of technology and therefore may seem frivolous or redundant to some people is itself a privilige. For example, US immigration or LGBT policies directly feed into the talent at US tech companies can hire, the culture they can sustain, and that manifests in the technological choices and outputs of these companies. This is why by and large, "diversity and inclusion" topics become such hotbeds of discussion on this site.

So while I acknowledge your overall broad point and will strive to do better, I do think it is appropriate for me to comment or call out certain "political" or "idiological" points in the context of the discussion that is being had. For example, I do think there is evidence that the most highly-upvoted perspectives on the subject of Twitter/Facebook censorship are themselves political/idiological. The most heavily upvoted comments call out censorship of right-leaning news while not acknowledging the role of right-leaning misinformation under the guise of news. They claim to hold an absolutist position on free speech yet denigrate "cancel culture" (which is a form of free speech that has the potential to be harmful to societal majority in-groups vs protected hate speech that is only harmful to minority out-groups).

I absolutely seek out those top-voted comments that are stating an idiological position and am looking to provide a counterargument.

I have not done so with appropriate substance or care, and will do so from now on. But I cannot and will not in good conscience avoid those subjects as they are the most important issues of our time.

That guideline doesn't mean that tech can be disassociated from politics. Nor is HN just about "tech"—see the top of https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html.

The important word in that guideline is not "political" but "battle". When people are just trying to defeat enemies, that has nothing in common with curious conversation. Worse, it destroys curious conversation (as the guideline points out). For example, in battle, one must repeat the same points over and over—repetition is key to victory. But repetition kills curiosity (https://hn.algolia.com/?query=curiosity%20repetition%20by:da...). Worse, in battle the goal is not to explore the world or think out loud, but to overpower someone else. Communication becomes weaponized and rhetorical. This leads to entirely different discussion, and it leads people to attack each other in nasty ways that destroy community. If we don't moderate this, flames will take over the site completely.

The intention on HN is not to exclude political topics but to include them, when they're interesting, in a way that is consistent with curiosity, which is what we're trying to optimize this site for (https://hn.algolia.com/?query=curiosity%20optimiz%20by:dang&...). We need HN users to stay within curious mode and forego battle mode.

I've written about how we moderate politics on HN many times, and the questions and answers have been pretty stable for a long time. You'll find past explanations here: https://hn.algolia.com/?query=political%20overlap%20by:dang&.... If anyone has a better idea about how we should approach this, I'd love to hear it. But please make sure that you've familiarized yourself with the material first, because if it's something simple like "just ban politics" or "just allow everything", I've already answered many times why that won't work.

The right-wing has rebranded to be pure contrarianism - I think that's why so many HNers are apologetic for the American right lately.


Ad Fontes is a trusted and reliable service that measures and publishes political skew and accuracy of almost every major news site, and there are plenty of right-wing and far-right news sources if that floats your boat.


There's also plenty of left-wing and far-left sources that are just as unreliable as the other side. Ignoring one-side over the other without evidence or on 'source says' claims will confirm your own bias.

'Fact-checkers' can be biased in 'selectively' fact-checking claims made by either person and not checking 'ALL' their claims. Look at all sides of the political spectrum, uncover the full context that some may deliberately omit and then come to your own conclusion of the actual picture. [0]

[0] https://www.allsides.com/unbiased-balanced-news

One wonders what Trump and Zuckerberg talked about over their several dinners.

I always found it odd that people expect tech companies to be leaning either way. Their goal is to be as good friends with whoever has power as possible.

If they cared about ethics they wouldn’t have the supply chains or be in the markets they are.

Of course they cozied up to Trump, why wouldn’t they? The only reason Facebook is pretending to take democracy and truth seriously now, is because they have data that tells them they need new political friends post November.

Not many people really did until the ousters of Brendan Eich and James Damore sort of kickstarted the narrative that tech companies are universally dominated by left-wing activists (despite the strong right-libertarian capitalist streak in startup culture.)

This graph shows overwhelming financial support of big tech employees for Democrats:


Employees don't determine the policies or agenda of a company, nor do they donate to political parties on behalf of or at the behest of their employer (at least not legally.) And that same article claims that donations by those tech companies' own political action committees favored Republicans.

At best it shows that individuals donate based on personal political ideology, and that tech hub demographics favor the left over the right, whereas the companies themselves donate in order to further their business interests, rather than a politically activist agenda.

"Employees don't determine the policies or agenda of a company" - No other industry has employees playing activists at their jobs than technology. What do you think the Spotify employees are trying to do with the whole Joe Rogan thing.

>No other industry has employees playing activists at their jobs than technology.

I take it you're unaware of the existence of unions or feminists or people of color or the disabled, then, because plenty of industries have had their share of politically active employees.

"Employees don't determine the policies or agenda of a company"

There are some interesting exceptions.

Thousands of employees had objected to Google's involvement with Project Maven. Project got cancelled.


The cynic in my thinks that the previous libertarian policies were the bait needed to get people to hand over control over their lives and allow their friendships to be intermediated, and the new authoritarian policies are the hook.

The cynic in me thinks that's a convenient pretense to maintain belief in a vast left-wing conspiracy despite evidence to the contrary.

I think it's more about being a power broker than left-wing ideology.

If you're starting a pool, I'd like to put $20 on "Zuck tried to talk tech policy, but really they only talked about Trump."

And how about $5 on "how to drink water in public" while we're at it?

It's difficult to imagine conspiracy there, friend.

You imagine Zuckerberg as pretty incompetent, but I think he's got some brains.

It's not hard to imagine how to talk policy to Trump. "Wow, you are the best president ever. So smart and strong. Also very good looking. I will hurt your enemies if you give me a tax break."

Make sure you get paid in advance, of course.

Given that everyone is going crazy in the news recently about Facebook censoring a very major right wing news story and Facebook and Twitter are being subpoenaed over the actions to speak before congress about it, that seems unlikely.

I'm not sure why this is downvoted (maybe a lot of FB employees are here). But this is a valid question. 'Deals' with politicians is how engaging with DC works (quid pro quo is the norm).

I honestly found it quite scary to leave comments on HN these days. You have no idea whether it's going to get upvotes or get downvoted to oblivion. It's one of these feelings when you're speaking to a small child who can get a tantrum any time of the day :)

You shouldn't worry about votes. Those are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

On another note, this is one of the places where things are still ok. Some media platforms I gave up on to keep my sanity.

When you start thinking of everybody in a group of thousands as one person, it's a mental health red flag IMO. Quite common, but suggests taking a break.

I don’t think they actually believe that HN is a small child. Taking a break is a good idea.

You just provided one more reason why I'm afraid of commenting ;)

P.S. Of course I didn't mean that HN is a small child.

If you suggest this site has astroturfing you'll be chastised for not following the site guidelines even though it's perfectly possible that there is astroturfing


> I also suspect that the degree of 'respect freedom of speech' content would be far higher, and the degree of skepticism expressed in this thread would be far lower,

Certainly, I remember that "Rationalist" blogger thread, Scott something, that shut down his own blog for a while and that blew up here with over 1000 comments going as far as finding it appropriate the harass the journalist in question and demanding some sort of license that could be revoked (or similar) for journalists in general. Not to mention the recent thread about booting out holocaust denier's bullshit - also over 1000 comments.

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