Since the Gizmodo story broke May 9, the news has been flooded with questions about whether Facebook suppressed conservative trending topics—and this controversy is good for you.
The analysis and the handwringing have occurred, the pundits have spoken, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with leading conservatives, and while Facebook says it found no evidence of intentional malfeasance, it is making changes in response to the allegations.
But the question remains: is Facebook slightly biased? Perhaps Facebook is exactly as biased as its users, which, according to the Pew Research Center, are more liberal than conservative. And with the decline of true investigative journalism as documented by the independent, nonprofit newsroom, ProPublica, news organizations are becoming more biased too. Maybe instead of trying to eliminate bias, it might make more sense to acknowledge it.
We know that as people continually source their news and information from places they know and love, including Google, we are living in an echo chamber where prejudices and opinions are reinforced by search results. One individual will see the world very differently from others who live in the parallel echo chambers down the street, or in another neighborhood, or another section of the community, or are of another race, another political persuasion, or live in another part of the country. This algorithmic phenomenon is what Internet activist and author Eli Pariser dubbed "the filter bubble.”
Facebook—with its 1.6 billion active users worldwide—is a primary source of news and information for an enormous portion of the population. As Wired recently put it, "Facebook is, well, exercising news judgment because, whether it admits as much, Facebook is now in the news business."
This means more echo chambers.
Facebook has approximately 156.5 million users in the United States, which makes any allegation of bias a serious concern, especially in a presidential election year. But it’s not just Facebook, it’s not just Congress that is more partisan, and it's not just on college campuses where first amendment freedoms are in danger because some perspectives are not welcome. The problem of personalized news is ubiquitous.
When people actively consume one-sided information, hang around friends with whom they agree, watch media channels and listen to radio and podcasts that confirm their worldview and parrot back to them what they want to hear, not what they need to hear, the population is at risk of creating a broken democracy.
This is why I started Counterpointing, a company with the simple goal of delivering multiple sides to the user, on any topic. Our goal is to deliver several perspectives to our users so they can make up their own minds. We are agnostic and ignorant about which side you are on when you enter our site, and which side you are on when you leave. Our only hope is that you will make better decisions when you engage with a range of ideas, concepts, and opinions.
If the Facebook controversy helps shine a light on the fact that everywhere we turn for news and information is biased, that’s good for you, and good for the country too.
John Toba is the Founder and CEO of Counterpointing Inc.