Automation may be the way of the future for many jobs today, but the Facebook “Trending Topics” feature shows that some things may still need human guidance.
Ever since Facebook removed its editorial and curation team from the Facebook Trending Topics area, the feature has been prone to featuring old news, hoaxes, and satire as actual news.
On the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the lack of oversight was especially notable. One of the top stories of the day was a hoax story about how the attacks were caused by bombs and not planes, as captured in this Tweet:
A number of news outlets reached out to Facebook in response to the hoax story appearing, and as a result Facebook quickly removed the story from the Trending Topics area, saying:
We’re aware a hoax article showed up there, and as a temporary step to resolving this we’ve removed the topic.
Leaving algorithms to try and do the work of trained editors is a risky venture. Until about May of this year, editors with journalistic training were providing context for trending stories and making sure obvious hoaxes weren’t being featured.
At the same time, the editorial staff also received criticism for having political bias, and as a result Facebook decided to remove them.
Since the editorial team left, there have been a number of hoaxes that have made it to the top of the trending topics area, including one about news anchor Megyn Kelly, with this September 11th article just being the latest.
Perhaps this may not seem like a big deal at first, but with around 1.7 billion (yes, with a B) monthly active users, Facebook has become a media giant in its own right.
For many Facebook users, their Facebook newsfeed has become their central, if not only, news outlet. So the pressure is on for Facebook to get the Trending Topics area right.