Could Facebook be suppressing hunting, fishing and shooting news in their trending topics?
If you're a Facebook user, you've probably read Gizmodo's piece on how Facebook's news curators were allegedly instructed to suppress more conservative and right-wing trending topics by now. No doubt you check these trending topics every day if you're a typical user.
But if you haven't heard the news, to make a long story short, Gizmodo interviewed an anonymous, alleged former "news curator" for Facebook. In the story, the accusation was made that these curators were purposely instructed to keep more conservative topics such as Mitt Romney or Rand Paul from trending.
This suppression allegedly happened even though user chatter was causing these topics to trend organically. If true, it would go against Facebook's claims the trending topics are not artificially altered or influenced in any way.
"Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending," the source told Gizmodo. "It'd come on shift and I'd discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn't be trending because either the curator didn't recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz."
It's no secret Facebook's trending topics are tended to and curated by a team of human beings. In fact, the team responsible for trending news has denied the allegations of Gizmodo. "We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true," Facebook's VP of Search Tom Stocky posted on the site yesterday.
The Gizmodo article itself trended on Facebook at the same time Facebook denied the allegations. But, knowing human nature and how humans sometimes do shady things, might it mean someone might be hindering hunting, fishing and shooting topics from trending on the popular social media site?
It may be something of a stretch we know, but it did get some of us at Wide Open Spaces wondering. Hunting, fishing and shooting are typically things enjoyed by people with a more conservative mind-set. If Facebook really is suppressing conservative politics, are they also suppressing hunting, fishing and shooting topics? Things traditionally enjoyed mostly by conservatives?
One thing is for sure, Facebook doesn't have the rosiest of reputations with many hunters, fishermen and outdoorsmen and women.
The hottest of conservative hot topics these days is of course, guns, and some will probably argue Facebook has already taken a pretty strong stance against firearms. Gun owners were irate earlier this year when Facebook changed their policy to prohibit the use of their site in all private sales of firearms.
The policy decision seems decidedly anti-gun. There's probably also no question there are quite a few negative gun stories that trend nearly daily on Facebook, but it isn't always the case.
Facebook certainly didn't suppress the story of former Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's custom-engraved handgun. The photo posted online by Bush went viral and was all over multiple social media sites, including Facebook, for at least a week.
When it comes to hunting, the site also has upset some hunters in the past.
Two years ago, the site deleted the photos of Texas Tech cheerleader Kendall Jones' photos of big game animals taken in Africa. At the time, Facebook said the decision to remove the photos wasn't because the company disapproved of hunting. They claimed the removal was part of their policy to remove "reported content that promotes poaching of endangered species, the sale of animals for organized fight or content that includes extreme acts of animal abuse."
These photos caused quite the online stir even without the controversy of them being deleted. To Facebook's credit, they quickly removed a "Kendall Jones Hate Page" that was created. Jones is still making regular hunting and fishing posts, some about African hunting. So far, without further incident involving Facebook's policies. Make of that what you will.
From my own observations, topics pertaining to hunting and fishing don't come up very often in Facebook's trending section. Not unless it's something really big. Such was the outrage over Cecil the Lion, which was big in Facebook's trending topics almost a year to the day after the Kendall Jones controversy.
Cecil and African hunting actually dominated headlines and Facebook's trending topics quite a bit last summer. No doubt you can recall some of the anti-hunting articles that were widely circulating at the time. There were a few pro-hunting pieces that trended, but for the most part, the stories trending did not cast hunters in a positive light.
There have been similar instances for fishermen. For instance, a shark fishing video back in February trended and contained many angry articles criticizing some beach anglers for taking a shark out of the water.
Do these examples mean that Facebook suppresses stories unless it puts hunters and fishermen in a bad light? Maybe, but I don't think that's a sure bet. Back in January of this year, I wrote a story about a strangely deformed mountain lion that was shot in a legal hunt in Idaho. I bring this up because this was a hunting story that trended strongly on Facebook for a day or two.
In the end, I just think it may have simply been the weirdness of the animal that caused this story to gain so much traction. There were angry comments on some articles from Facebook users, but there were no angry opinion articles criticizing the hunter for shooting this animal that I saw trending like there was with Cecil.
It's no secret the number of hunters and fishermen is dropping around the world in recent years. In the end, it might be harder for hunting and fishing stories to trend over mainstream stories about athletes, celebrities and politics.
Keep in mind, there's a lot of hunting, fishing and shooting groups on Facebook that can be found if you really want to find it. If Facebook brass aren't fans of these things, they are certainly being subtle in their attempts to suppress it.
While I don't believe Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is a fan of hunting or fishing, I also don't believe he's an anti-hunter. He made headlines back in 2011 when he vowed to only eat meat of animals he killed himself.
But the news that Facebook may have been suppressing topics, and I mean any topics, is distressing if there's even a hint of truth to it. If the allegations are true, it's likely conservative politics aren't the only trending topics being suppressed.
If hunting, fishing and shooting are also being suppressed, it's likely we'll never know unless more former Facebook workers come forward.
If you're looking for my opinion on all this as a journalist, I know I personally would never be comfortable with being asked to suppress topics, be they liberal or conservative in nature. If the accusations are true, I definitely want to know what other topics are being suppressed by these news curators. Especially if they have a negative impact on hunting, fishing or shooting sports.
I'm not saying the Gizmodo report is true or false, but I'd definitely need to know more before I had a more definitive opinion on it. One of my former editors once gave me a wise piece of advice. He said; "If your mother says she loves you, double check it."
The point he was trying to make was to always double-check facts and sources. And that's why I'm taking all this with a grain of salt. I'm not going to take a journalist I don't know at their word on something that is so scathing in nature from a single anonymous source. Sorry, that's just the way it works. But the story idea definitely warrants attention and further investigation. I'm hopeful someone will be able to dig up harder facts on this story.
I certainly hope the allegations are unfounded and Facebook is doing nothing to suppress news on the outdoor hobbies we all love and enjoy.
What do you guys think? Could Facebook potentially be suppressing hunting, fishing and shooting content in their trending topics column?