- The Washington Times - Monday, October 25, 2021

Tools deployed by Facebook suppressed the traffic of websites considered conservative even though it wasn’t the company’s intent, according to a Wall Street Journal story that looked at internal company debates over how the company attempts to police misinformation and news algorithms.

The social media website studied the impact of two tools on dozens of publishers, according to The Journal, and found websites considered “very conservative” would benefit the most if the tools were removed.

The Washington Times’ traffic would increase 18%.

Breitbart’s traffic would increase 20%, the Western Journal’s 16% and Epoch Times’ by 11%, it found.

Following the 2016 election, Facebook used a tool called “Sparing Sharing” to reel in “hyperposters” or accounts that post frequently under the belief these people were spreading false or incendiary information, the Journal reported.

Another one, known as “Informed Engagement,” reduced the reach of posts that were more likely to be shared if even if the sharer hadn’t read the articles, The Journal reported, elevating the content of mainstream outlets. A 2019 company analysis found its impact fell heavily on sites considered to be conservative.

SEE ALSO: History As It Happens: Facebook versus free speech

“We could face significant backlash for having ‘experimented’ with distribution at the expense of conservative publishers,” one of the researchers wrote in an internal memo reviewed by The Journal.

The company stopped Informed Engagement but kept Sparing Sharing.

The debate around the tools is part of a broader Journal story published Sunday about internal debates at the social medial giant.

The article pivots on internal chats at Facebook that suggested employees wanted to kick Breitbart out of its NewsTab feature, saying they cast Black Americans in a poor light during racial protests in 2020.

Executives often had to push back against agitation to remove certain content as the platform was caught between the left, which argues the platform disperses hate speech, and the right, which says it is censored by Big Tech.

The story underscores Facebook’s role as a source of news, with over a third of Americans saying they regularly see stories from it, according to Pew Research.

“We make changes to reduce problematic or low-quality content to improve people’s experiences on the platform, not because of a page’s political point of view,” said Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told The Journal. “When it comes to changes that will impact public pages like publishers, of course we analyze the effect of the proposed change before we make it.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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