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Facebook’s Trending feed updates target fake news at the cost of personalization

Why it matters to you

Facebook is taking another crack at how its Trending feed displays results, after the feature caused more than its share of headaches during last year's election.

Facebook is launching a set of updates for its mishap-prone Trending feature. Starting Wednesday, the feed will include more info underneath each trending topic, an improved system to determine which newsworthy topics are generating the most chatter on Facebook, and a region-locked feed. The new changes will be available to users in the Unites States in the coming weeks.

In its announcement, Facebook claims the updates will help it to eliminate fake news from its Trending feature — in particular via its new topic identification system. Whereas in the past, Facebook’s algorithm selected a trend based on the engagement around a single post or article, it will now look at the number of publishers posting about the same topic, and the interest that cluster of content is generating.

According to Facebook, not only will its new method surface a broader set of results quicker, but it will rely on multiple news outlets to determine what is real and what isn’t. Seeing as the previous system led to false items and conspiracy theories embarrassingly making it on to the Trending feed on a number of occasions, an update was badly needed.

The same goes for region-locked trends: Essentially an update that shows everyone in a particular country the same results. Previously, Facebook personalized these results based on your activity (a common system that is also utilized in regards to the News Feed algorithm). However, theoretically, that too could have been problematic based on what a person was looking at and engaging with on Facebook. Now, although it can’t stop you from interacting with whatever takes your fancy, it won’t serve you trends that match your interests. Despite claiming that its reasoning for doing so is to “help make sure people don’t miss important topics,” it’s likely due to the fact that Facebook does not want to be blamed for serving people fake news — as was the case following the election outcome last year.

Finally, the smallest of the three updates is the addition of publisher headlines below trending topics. Much like Google News and Twitter, Facebook will pick out an attributed headline to help you get a better understanding of a result without having to click on it for more info. The social network claims that it chooses the featured headline based on a number of criteria including the engagement around the publisher overall, and how many times its been cited by other articles (again in the vein of Google News). Prior to the new version, Facebook simply showed a trend (i.e., “Brexit) without any context aside from a figure denoting how many people were talking about it.

Launched in 2014, the Trending feed is currently only available to users in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and India.