By Alex Fitzpatrick
May 10, 2016

A Facebook executive said late Monday that his team has found “no evidence” of conservative media outlets being purposefully blocked from a section that collects popular news stories on the site. The response comes after a report by technology news site Gizmodo suggested that some of the contractors who run that section, called “Trending Topics,” let their political biases guide their selections.

“Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum,” wrote Tom Stocky, Facebook’s vice president of search. “There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality. These guidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives. Nor do they permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another. These guidelines do not prohibit any news outlet from appearing in Trending Topics.”

Facebook’s Trending section shows a list of news stories that are being widely shared on the platform, with some degree of personalization for each user. Stories that appear there can be rewarded with bountiful attention thanks to Facebook’s vast reach.

Many users believed the section to be largely powered by an algorithm that surfaced widely-shared stories, while human workers added a readable headline and description. However, Gizmodo’s reporting, based on anonymous sources, suggested that the workers on the Trending team have more of a central role in the story selection process.

Read more: It’s time Facebook came clean about how it picks what you read

The revelations put Facebook in the hot seat as it continues to grow its influence in the media sphere. More than 1 billion people use Facebook daily and online publishers increasingly rely on it as a source of web traffic, which gives the social network potentially massive sway over the larger online conversation. Indeed, several top Republicans, like Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus, held up Gizmodo’s story as evidence of what they perceive to be the company’s political leanings. (CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently took a thinly veiled shot at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, now the presumptive nominee. However, Zuckerberg also has close ties to New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, now a central figure in Trump’s campaign.)

For its part, Facebook’s argument seems to be that it avoids web articles from sites it views as having a political bent one way or the other, preferring instead what might be characterized as “mainstream” outlets. That would mean Facebook’s team skips articles from sites like Breitbart or RedState, but it would similarly pass up stories from left-leaning domains, like The Daily Kos.

Here is Stocky’s post in full:

Write to Alex Fitzpatrick at alex.fitzpatrick@time.com.

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