Facebook algorithm to list trending topics a mistake?


A few days ago, Facebook made some changes to the ‘Trending’ section, by laying off the human editors they employed, entrusting their duties to their new algorithm. Albeit, it could have been the social media giant’s oops moment.

Users may notice a slight change to the ‘Trending’ section on the right hand side of their News Feed, as it is not accompanied by a one line description of the topic anymore. This happened to be one of the duties of the human editors (formerly) under Facebook’s employment.

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On their blog, the company explains, users can also access additional information about the trending topic by hovering the cursor above the topic, one can see the headline from the original source and an excerpt from the news article. Additionally, the topics shown to users will be personalized, influenced by an number of factors such as pages they follow and user location.

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According to some previous reports, the editors at Facebook were being accused of selecting topics based on their belief and preference, which explains the company’s decision to do away with the department. The blog post also explained the changes further whilst reiterating that their editors were impartial in their selection of topics.

The algorithm was performing as expected by the people at Facebook, but it hit a bit of a snag on Monday when it promoted a fake news story from a supposedly untrustworthy website. The story cites an article from Vanity Fair as the source as it reported Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly getting fired for endorsing Democratic Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Facebook’s new algorithm was expected to deliver high quality topics only, and assign preference to current news and events from across the world.

Instead it ended up promoting the rumour of Megyn Kelly losing her job at Fox, to the top of ‘Trending’ based solely on the amount of mentions and traction the news article received on Facebook. And without human verification to test its credibility, Facebook’s decision to let go off their editors’ department was deemed an err in judgement.

This isn’t the first time the race to White House has spilled onto Facebook. Speculations, accusations, propaganda and rumours have been flying around the platform for months now. It has been trending consistently and Facebook’s trend editors played a huge part in verifying credible news and events before adding them to the ‘Trending’ list.

More people are reading their news on Facebook than ever, and some publications in fact depend on Facebook for referrals and promotion of their content. The company has overstepped into a category it continually denies it wants to be a part of, that of a news publication.

The social media giant has been reluctant to accept this new role that they seem to have assumed and repeatedly stressed that they do not decide what their users see on the platform.

Continually stating their role as a means to ‘bring family and friends closer’, Facebook appears to be experiencing an identity crisis which for their own sake, we hope they resolve soon.

Have you noticed the newest face lift, and if so, what are your thoughts about it? Will the algorithm’s criteria for qualification as a trend help publishers reach out to a larger audience on Facebook?


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