Facebook is rolling out new technology to prevent fake news stories from invading their trending topics according to Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s News Feed Head. The social media giant seeks to improve the experience of its users when it comes to this popular feature and will be implementing technology that is currently being used in their news feed.
This change appears to be the next in a series of steps that Facebook is taking to modify how they deliver news to users following a controversial piece by Breitbart Tech, which reportedly exposed a liberal media bias in the trending news topics. Not long after these accusations were made public, Facebook fired the entirety of their trending news team, apparently allowing the trending news algorithm to manage the feed on its own.
Unfortunately, the trending news team had the important job of weeding through the news stories to prevent fake or offensive news from reaching the trending news feed. Without human intervention, several stories that were deemed highly inappropriate and, in a couple of cases, outright false, made it to the feed. The offending algorithm was, evidently, unable to manage the job alone.
Critics have accused Facebook of acting rashly when firing their team, suggesting that it was an obvious overcorrection to the accusations posed by Breitbart Tech. However, The Guardian reported a source suggesting that the plan to make the algorithm autonomous was a long term one. This source stated that the algorithm was always supposed to learn from the team, a plan that apparently failed.
Facebook defends its decision to remove the human element from their trending news feed. Mosseri claims that doing so will help them expand the scale of the feed and reach a more global audience. Current plans to improve the system are, therefore, geared toward making it more independent.
According to an anonymous post in the Facebook newsroom, they are also seeking to make the trending news feed more user friendly. Story descriptions will be replaced with brief topics (not more than one or two words). Users can click on the topics to learn more. The post assures users that, with all of the changes, trending news topics will continue to be personalized as the algorithm still takes into account user “likes” and viewing history.
However, the most telling piece of information to come out of the anonymous post is the admission that “there are still people involved in this process to ensure that the topics that appear in Trending remain high-quality — for example, confirming that a topic is tied to a current news event in the real world.” It sounds like, despite having fired everyone behind the feed, Facebook continues to employ individuals to help keep the rogue algorithm in check. This is probably a wise move until they’re confident that their new technology is up to the challenge.