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Without human oversight, Facebook’s trending algorithm features fake news

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There have been many reports of fake, satirical, or downright wrong news stories being promoted on Facebook through its Trending sidebar widget since the social network moved from a model where human editors curated stories flagged by the algorithm to one where the algorithm finds and features stories on its own.

The Intersect, part of the Washington Post, is reporting that from August 31 through September 3, they logged all of the news stories that were trending across four different accounts. In that time, seven stories were flagged as being either completely fake or incredibly inaccurate.

A big issue being taken with these findings is that the purpose of the whole Trending feature on Facebook is to be a quick snapshot of all the big and important news relevant to you from that day. If a user is being constantly shown fake or inaccurate news stories, then people are being misinformed and, depending on the topic, that could be bad for someone who the story is written about — like the Megan Kelly incident — or for the person reading the story who may unknowingly spread inaccurate information as truth or fact.

The issue all started with accusations of political bias on Facebook’s Trending editorial team toward the beginning of this year, prompting Facebook to re-evaluate the role that humans took in vetting the stories that were featured. Then toward the end of August, the social network laid off its entire Trending editorial staff, replacing them with software engineers whose job was to make sure the algorithm was working — not to verify the validity of the news stories that it uncovered.

Just take this all into account the next time you see a story on your Trending list and know that just because it is being featured by Facebook, does not mean it has been vetted and is real, accurate, or reliable.

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