Facebook’s list of trustworthy news sources it uses to determine trending topics includes Communist or Russian state-run media websites, The Onion, and a host of liberal outlets.
Facebook released a statement Thursday explaining how it selects what topics are trending after reports surfaced that the social media company repeatedly censored conservative news even though items should have been trending organically.
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Along with the statement promising its "deep commitment to being a platform for people of all viewpoints," Facebook provided the methodology of how its employees choose what trends. One test is that the topic must be corroborated by at least three outlets out of Facebook’s list of 1,000 reputable websites.
Facebook’s list includes a number of media outlets controlled by repressive regimes such as Russia and China.
RT, which receives more than $300 million per year from the Kremlin to defend Russian military adventurism and attack the United States, appears on the list, as does RIA Novosti, a state-owned domestic news agency.
Several members of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company appear on the list, including Channel One news, which was launched in 1938 as Soviet Central Television.
Freedom House wrote that Russian state-owned media outlets are "actively participating in an ‘information war’ with [Russia’s] perceived adversaries," such as Ukraine and the United States. The campaign, which intensified after Russia’s invasion of Crimea, has misled the Russian people and destabilized vulnerable countries in Russia’s near abroad.
Chinese Communist Party organs also appear on the list. China Daily, an English-language newspaper that is vetted by a Communist Party censor and disseminated across several continents for propaganda purposes, is on the list. So are China News and Xinhua News Agency, wire services used by the Chinese government "to wield soft power abroad," according to Newsweek.
More militantly communist publications such as Liberation Daily and the Global Times appear on the list as well. Liberation Daily, in publication since the Chinese Civil War, is the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party in Shanghai. The Global Times is a "hyper-nationalist" publication that promotes a militaristic Chinese foreign policy.
All of the publications carefully toe the communist party line, omitting references to events like the Tiananmen Square massacre and portraying persecuted groups like Falun Gong in a negative light. Freedom House has designated the Chinese press as "Not Free."
When asked about the state-owned propaganda outlets on its list, a Facebook spokesperson noted that the company’s guidelines require stories to be corroborated by at least three outlets on the list.
"A single source alone is not sufficient to corroborate a story," the spokesperson said.
More than three Russian and Chinese propaganda outlets appear on the list, so a Facebook trending story could be sourced entirely by outlets controlled by those repressive regimes.
Besides state-run media, Facebook also included satirical news sites like the Onion.
The list also includes many left-leaning sites, such as the Atlantic, the Daily Kos, Jezebel, Gawker, the New Republic, the New Yorker, NPR, Mother Jones, MSNBC, Salon, Slate, Upworthy, Vox, and five websites for the Huffington Post.
Facebook came under fire for its manipulation of trending topics after news curators told Gawker Media's Gizmodo—an approved Facebook source—that the site regularly blacklisted conservative media and censored conservative topics.
"Among the deep-sixed or suppressed topics on the list: former IRS official Lois Lerner, who was accused by Republicans of inappropriately scrutinizing conservative groups; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; popular conservative news aggregator the Drudge Report; Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL who was murdered in 2013; and former Fox News contributor Steven Crowder," Gizmodo reported.
Facebook denied the allegations, saying that it does "not permit the suppression of political perspectives." In its release Thursday, the company said that any trending topic must be "corroborated by reporting from at least three of a list of more than a thousand media outlets."
"At Facebook, we stand for connecting every person—for a global community, for bringing people together, for giving all people a voice, for a free flow of ideas and culture across nations," said Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s vice president of global operations.
The use of multiple sources from its "Media1K Outlets" list is intended to block the spread of "junk" topics on the site, according to Facebook guidelines. Users looking for updates on the IRS targeting scandal—which continues to develop—would have to rely on reputable news outlets such as Brobible.com, PerezHilton.com, AdultSwim.com, MuscleandFitness.com, Popsugar.com, Popcrush.com, TigerWoods.com, NickMom.com, Nascar.com, Oprah.com, RollingStone.com, BettyCrocker.com, MarthaStewart.com, and Seventeen.com before they could hope to see it trend.
Facebook’s list does include some conservative sites, such as the Drudge Report, Breitbart, the Blaze, the Daily Caller, Real Clear Politics, the Washington Examiner, and the Washington Times.
Disclosure: The Washington Free Beacon is not on the list.
Bill McMorris and Blake Seitz contributed to this report.