Editors' pick: Originally published May 24.
Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch outlined in a post late Monday the results of the company's investigation into allegations its workers censored conservative content as well as measures taken to tweak the way its "trending topics" section works. The move came in response to a letter from Republican Senator John Thune earlier this month requesting Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg respond to questions regarding its news curation practices.
While Facebook's inquiry into the matter revealed no evidence of systematic political bias or prominence of certain stories, Stretch said that the company could not "fully exclude the possibility of isolated improper actions or unintentional bias."
In turn, Facebook well make a handful of changes to the section, including get rid of its "1K list," a group of 1,000 websites it uses to help verify headlines, and removing the ability to assign an "importance level" to a topic through its prominence on a list of 10 top news sites, which includes outlets like The New York Times, Washington Post and CNN.
"...[S]uppressing political content or preventing people from seeing what matters most to them is directly contrary to our mission and our business objectives...," Stretch wrote, later adding, "These improvements and safeguards are designed not only to ensure that Facebook remains a platform that is open and welcoming to all groups and individuals, but also to restore any loss of trust in the Trending Topics feature."
The matter isn't just a question of inclusion, but also of business. Namely, Facebook doesn't want right-leaning users to stop engaging or conservative marketers to stop advertising.
The 2016 elections will likely come down to social media, said Ivan Feinseth, chief investment officer at Tigress Financial Partners in New York, and be decided by young people, first-time voters and others who rely heavily on social platforms for views, news and information. Facebook wants to capitalize on the engagement-level opportunity by being as inclusive as possible, not by alienating users.
"Nobody likes censoring of any type, and everybody with any point of view expects any platform to be fair and balanced," Feinseth said. "Everybody expects that they can interact with each other and have access to news that is fair and balanced and doesn't expect any person's intermediating in it to change the view."
The U.S. presidential election has already generated enormous amounts of engagement on Facebook. It was the most talked-about global topic of 2015 on the platform, and by October of last year, Facebook users had already generated more than one billion likes, posts, comments and shares relating to the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook must also avoid alienating advertisers, especially given that it is expected to bring in $350 million in political ads as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face off this election cycle.
"Facebook...revenue is advertiser-driven, [and] advertisers don't want to feel that there is any bias," said Feinseth.
Facebook has made numerous efforts to calm concerns about potential biases in the wake of a Gizmodo report suggesting its employees squashed right-leaning news. Last week, Zuckerberg met with a group of Republican leaders at Facebook's Menlo Park, Calif. headquarters to discuss the issue. He had previously responded with a separate post and by releasing information on how the platform's trending section works.
What now remains to be seen is whether conservatives will be completely convinced that Facebook is a bias-free space -- it is in the company's best interest that they are.
"It's very important that they show themselves to be fair and balanced," said Feinseth.
To be sure, there is not yet evidence that conservative censorship allegations have or will hurt Facebook's stock price. TheStreet's Jim Cramer, who owns Facebook in his Action Alerts PLUS portfolio, said he doesn't believe it will ultimately be impactful while at the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday. "Facebook stock has been down has been down for a couple of days. I think that's just natural profit-taking. I think Facebook's very good. I don't know where I see it bouncing, but the political stuff leaves me cold. It's just not really an issue, it's just something, the government getting involved, but it doesn't decrease page views," he said.