Facebook promises independent Trending algorithm, but still relies on human editors

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Facebook is updating its Trending topics feed in a bid to deliver the autonomous news algorithm it has always promised. There is just one small problem; the social network still requires a human team of editors to curate its results.

Facebook announced on Friday that it is scrapping story descriptions for its Trending topics, which was one of the main tasks assigned to Facebook’s editorial team. Consequently, the Trending feed now contains the headings for the most talked about and shared stories on the site, and the numbers relating to how many users are discussing that particular topic. “This is based on the number of original posts that mention the topic and shares of posts about the topic,” Facebook stated.

“A more algorithmically driven process allows us to scale Trending to cover more topics and make it available to more people globally over time,” the company claimed in a blog post. If you’re seeking a description for what may otherwise seem like a cryptic keyword or trending hashtag (such as #PhelpsFace), hovering over the topic will bring up an article preview from a popular news source.

Before and After: Facebook updates its Trending feed
Before and After: Facebook updates its Trending feed

However, despite Facebook’s efforts, the feed is still not completely algorithmic. In Facebook’s words, “there are still people involved in this process” whose main role is to “ensure that the topics that appear in Trending remain high-quality.”

Essentially, Facebook still requires an old-fashioned human touch to make sure that its algorithm doesn’t keep showing you the mundane topics that people consistently talk about on the platform — such as #lunch.

As you may recall, Facebook faced a huge backlash earlier this year when some of its former employees alleged in a report that they had been curating the results on its Trending feed to suppress conservative news stories, regardless of their popularity. Speculation was rife regarding the role of management in the editorial process, and whether bias on the feed had become systematic. Facebook was forced to take action, which came in the form of an internal investigation. Its leadership (including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg) also released public statements in defense of the company’s unregulated approach to news. Facebook claimed that the investigation itself yielded no evidence of internal bias, but it is obviously still attempting to fix the issue.

As a result, Facebook has fast-tracked the path to autonomy with today’s changes. In regards to the update, Facebook stated that it decided to make it sooner rather than later based on feedback from its community of users. It also addressed the elephant in the room by claiming that it had made its Trending system more transparent in response to questions about “alleged political bias in the product.” Whether it can permanently bury allegations as a result of its update remains to be seen.

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