Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly authorized temporary tweaks to the Facebook algorithm in the days following the U.S. presidential election that elevated content from established news outlets as the platform attempted to clamp down on the spread of post-election misinformation.
As part of the change, Facebook relied on an internal ranking system it calls “news ecosystem quality” scores or N.E.Q. to elevate content from publications like The New York Times, CNN, and NPR, the Times reported.
N.E.Q. — which typically plays a minor role in determining what appears on a users’ feed — is a secret internal ranking that Facebook assigns to news publishers based on its assessment of the quality of their journalism.
This change was reportedly a part of Facebook’s contingency plan in case of a contested election and its implementation resulted in a slump in engagement for hyper-partisan sources like Breitbart and Occupy Democrats.
At an employee meeting the week after the election, some Facebook employees asked if the “nicer” news feed could stay, the Times reported, but a company executive told reporters in a call last week that the post-election changes were always meant to be temporary.
Forbes has reached out to Facebook for a comment on the issue.
Prior to election day, Facebook had laid out its plans to tackle election-related misinformation on the platform, which included the suspension of all political advertising after polls closed on November 3, and had said that it was prepared to “restrict the circulation of content” if election day descended into chaos or violent civic unrest. President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election and his unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud prompted Facebook to keep some of its post-election measures active longer than it had initially planned. This included extending its ban on all political advertising by a month and continuing to add labels to posts that falsely claim election fraud and victory for Trump. The platform moved quickly to shut down a group called “Stop the Steal” — which had quickly added over 300,000 members — after its members falsely claimed Democrats were stealing the election and some of them threatened violence.
Facebook’s decision to alter its algorithms to elevate specific media platforms may lead to pushback from Republicans, who have consistently accused the platform of censoring conservative outlets and voices. At a congressional hearing earlier this month, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) the chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee charged that Facebook was making editorial decisions instead of acting like a platform, Zuckerberg pushed back against.