Everything you need to know about the Facebook Trending Topics bias controversy

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Another year, another Facebook controversy. The company is in the spotlight once again, but this time, it has nothing to do with user data collection or conducting tests on users without them knowing — this time is has to do with Facebook as a news service.

According to recent accusations Facebook has been suppressing conservative news topics from its Trending Topics sections, showing bias on a news service that many people turn to specifically to avoid bias. But what does that mean? And why is it such a big deal? Here’s everything you need to know about Trending Topics and the debate around it.

What are Trending Topics?

Trending Topics
Trending Topics

If you’re a regular Facebook user, you’ve probably seen Trending Topics on your Home page, whether you use it as a source of news or not. The section lives in the upper right hand corner of the Home page, and shows news stories that are popular at the time. The stories could be related to celebrities, current events, or really anything else newsworthy.

The section really is a great way to get a quick look at the news of the day, especially if you’re mainly looking for news that you would be interested in. That’s one of the main areas in which Trending Topics differs from a traditional news outlet — the topics are tailored to you.

A story goes through a number of stages before it becomes a Trending Topic. First, potential stories are found by an algorithm, which identifies stories on Facebook based on mentions on the network over periods of time. The algorithm also uses an RSS reader to identify breaking stories.

Next up, those stories are reviewed by an editorial team, who confirm that the topic is noteworthy, write up a description for the topic, give it a category (sports, science, etc.), and check to see whether the story is national or international news, giving it an importance level based on what they find.

For an in-depth rundown of how Trending Topics work, take a look at this blog post, from Facebook itself.

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