Facebook denies pro-Brexit bias

If you were ‘in favour of leaving the EU’, Facebook wanted you to tell people. Remaining, not so much

Facebook has denied bias in the forthcoming EU referendum, after users noticed the social network offered the ability to mark yourself as “in favour of leaving the EU”, but not in favour of remaining.

The feature was highlighted by Jon Worth, a writer and strategist based in Berlin. When writing a status update on Facebook, if he tapped to add a “feeling/activity” tag to the update, then tapped on “more”, only a pro-leave option was included in the list of available activities.

So Facebook’s iOS app allows you to express “in favour of leaving the EU” but not favour Remaining. #Brexit bias. pic.twitter.com/juaDYZUXwF

— Jon Worth (@jonworth) June 14, 2016

The Guardian replicated his finding on one user’s account, and found that only the pro-leave option was available on the mobile web version of Facebook, but that neither view was represented on the desktop version of the site. Facebook has since removed the pro-leave option from the suggestions in the app.

Now if the user manually begins to type “EU” into the search bar, both options are available. Until Wednesday a weirdly Americanised “in favor of leaving/remaining in the EU” was also available, but that has been removed.

Worth said: “I cannot imagine many people actually use a Feeling/Activity so deeply buried in Facebook’s menus. But what worries me is that Facebook has added this to its app – and this is a core function, not something user-generated – and did not stop to think about the inherent bias shown here. Once more it calls into question how neutral privately owned social networks are when it comes to political debate.”

The Guardian asked Facebook for an explanation for the discrepancy, and the social network said: “People who search for ‘EU’ when they are using our status tool will see a full range of options enabling them to add if they are thinking of leaving or remaining in the EU. People scrolling through the list of activities see options based on what their friends and other people have been using”.

The “in favour of leaving the EU” option was removed from the list of suggested feelings shortly after the Guardian made its inquiry.


Alex Hern

The GuardianTramp

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