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Facebook Trending Topics Loses Human Editors

27 August 2016

Facebook said Friday it has made a change to its Trending Topics section, following allegations that staff members suppressed stories with a conservative viewpoint.

Facebook said it will stop using a team of contractors that sorted through the news, some of whom anonymously leaked concerns about bias to the news site Gizmodo.

Facebook is changing up the way it displays Trending Topics, removing the story descriptions that were previously listed beside topics, and now only showing a "simplified" topic and its number of mentions. However, some people will still be manually involved with the process to "ensure that the topics that appear in trending remain high-quality", according to Facebook's post. Editors will also continue to combine multiple hashtags and keywords that describe a single trend under a unified topic. "In this new version of Trending we no longer need to draft topic descriptions or summaries, and as a result we are shifting to a team with an emphasis on operations and technical skillsets", Facebook said in a statement.

The advantage of relying on algorithms over human editors, Facebook says, is that it can enable the Trending Topics feature for users worldwide, instead of limiting it to just countries like the US.

"We're committed to maintaining Trending as a way for people to access a breadth of ideas and commentary".

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For the sake of scale and greater impartiality, Facebook is automating the creation of its Trending topics.

"Our goal is to enable Trending for as many people as possible, which would be hard to do if we relied exclusively on summarizing topics by hand", according to the blog post. For example, lunch is inevitably a popular discussion topic among users every day, but Facebook employees will make sure that it doesn't become a trending topic because it's not exactly news.

If users want to see what others are saying about a topic, they can hover over it or click to see more. The company added that while it did not find evidence of "systematic bias" earlier this year, the new changes to the product "allows our team to make fewer individual decisions about topics".

Instead, a special algorithm will pull excerpts from the articles themselves to be placed within the Trending Topics section. Below each name or topic, there will be a number of how many people are discussing it on the social network. Following our report, and a Congressional investigation, Facebook conducted an internal investigation (albeit, one with myriad flaws) and said it found "no bias".

Users will now see a list of Trending topics, and hovering over them or clicking on them will bring users to content on those topics.

Facebook Trending Topics Loses Human Editors