Facebook offers set of 'Values' to reassure users of neutrality

Facebook offers set of 'Values' to reassure users of neutrality
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Facebook on Wednesday sought to reassure users that its signature homepage News Feed doesn’t favor some political viewpoints over others.

“We don’t favor specific kinds of sources — or ideas,” the company said in a set of “Values” it claims guide the product. “Our aim is to deliver the types of stories we’ve gotten feedback that an individual person most wants to see.

“We do this not only because we believe it’s the right thing but also because it’s good for our business,” Facebook said. “When people see content they are interested in, they are more likely to spend time on News Feed and enjoy their experience.”

The publication of the Values came with an announcement that the company would boost the position of content shared by friends and family of its users in the News Feed. That is likely to have a detrimental effect on the traffic sent to media organizations and other publishers that have become reliant on Facebook to grow their audiences.

The company has reportedly struggled in recent months with a decline in the amount of personal content being shared by users, which is seen as particularly valuable.

The remarks on political neutrality reflect renewed attention to bias on Facebook after recent allegations that its Trending Topics feature, which is run by a team of editors working from an algorithmically generated list of news stories. A former editor anonymously alleged that colleagues had downplayed stories from certain sources.

The company, under fire from Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenators share their fascination with sharks at hearing Helsinki summit becomes new flashpoint for GOP anger Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash MORE (R-S.D.) over the charges, launched an examination of the product and summoned prominent conservatives to its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. The investigation ultimately turned up no evidence of systemic bias in trending topics, according to the company, but nonetheless resulted in changes to the way the feature was operated.

But Trending Topics is a marginal product compared to the News Feed, which is the primary place where Facebook users see content. The company sought to dispel any sense of bias in its core product when it published the Values used by the News Feed on Wednesday.

“These values — which we’ve been using for years — guide our thinking, and help us keep the central experience of News Feed intact as it evolves,” said Facebook's Adam Mosseri in a blog post.

The document released on Wednesday also tried to bolster the company’s argument that maintaining both the perception of neutrality and actually eliminating bias are important to its ongoing success.

“Our integrity depends on being inclusive of all perspectives and view points, and using ranking to connect people with the stories and sources they find the most meaningful and engaging,” the company said in the document.

The company also said it believes it can be neutral while still policing content that makes users feel unsafe and is deemed “out-of-bounds.”