Facebook Automates Trending Topics

For the sake of scale and greater impartiality, Facebook is automating the creation of its Trending topics.


“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 social giant stated Friday.

Going forward, rather than seeing a story description in Trending, users can expect to see a simplified topic -- #PhelpsFace or NASA, for example -- along with the number of people talking about the topic on Facebook.

The change follows accusations of conservative media bias, which was followed by an internal investigation into Facebook's content editing policies. To its credit, the social giant was quick to address the first condemning reports. Tom Stocky, VP of search at the social giant, insisted that the claims of bias were without merit.

Soon afterward, however, The Guardianpointed to leaked documents showing that human editors have plenty of opportunity to fiddle with the placement of news content in Trending Topics.

The report was not exactly inconsistent with Stocky’s description of his team’s protocol, but it contributed to a growing sense that Facebook was hiding something.

Soon thereafter, Senator John Thune, chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, released a letter addressed to Zuckerberg in which he demanded that Facebook clarify its content review practices.

Along with the internal investigation, Zuckerberg hosted a meeting with prominent conservatives, this spring. By most reports, the meeting went well. More recently -- following that investigation -- Facebook seemed to walk back its assertion that Trending Topics were never influenced by liberal bias.

“Our investigation could not fully exclude the possibility of isolated improper actions or unintentional bias in the implementation of our guidelines or policies,” Colin Stretch, Facebook general counsel, wrote in a letter to Senator Thune.

Now, to see more about what people are saying about topics, users will be encouraged to hover or click on them.

Search results pages will include related news sources and posts, along with an automatically selected original news story with an excerpt pulled directly from the top article itself. 

Articles and posts that appear in search results are surfaced via algorithms, based on a high volume of mentions and a sharp increase in mentions over a short period of time, according to Facebook.

The list of topics users see is still personalized, based on a number of factors, including Pages they have liked, their location, previous trending topics with which they have interacted, and what is trending across Facebook overall.

That said, Facebook assures that there will still be people involved in the editing process to ensure that topics remain “high-quality.”

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