Well, that was fast….It only took 3 days for Facebook’s (FB) new “algorithmic” editors to screw up the trending topics section. You heard that correctly. Less than 1 week since Facebook removed human editors and put an algorithmic system in place, the company trended a fake news story about Megyn Kelly, Fox Network’s news anchor.
And the tough part is that this kind of mistake was pretty easily avoided. The story reported that Megyn Kelly had been kicked out of the conservative Fox News network for being a secret supporter of Hillary Clinton. This is not likely since no one on Fox would ever think of “bleeding blue” or “siding with the Dems.” But in any case, facebooks “internets” made the decision to highlight this fake story as trending. The story actually out trended Beyonce’s VMA extravaganza, which was heavily trending on competitor site Twitter’s news feed all morning. This would have been an easy catch from a human editor but it seems like the computers are having a case of the Mondays
By trending the fake story, Facebook leant credibility to the hoax. According to reports Facebook’s algo relies on a number of different data points including different articles and posts about a given topic…a seemingly easily influenced approach to making fake stories go viral. This story on Megyn Kelly was a clear example of it and was actually first promoted to trending because it met the conditions for acceptance at the time (based on Facebook’s review guidelines). Upon re-review, however, the topic was deemed inaccurate and then removed…good work guys, crisis (not) averted.
But worst case scenario for FB is this…it could confirm suspicions that the social networking site has been purposefully not reporting on conservative news in place of more liberally driven content to trend. Of course this bias-driven conspiracy theory has yet to be proven but still, Facebook wasn’t able to produce complete logs to back up its process to choose trending topics. It’s also not the first time that Facebook’s Trending section has been duped by the algorithm.
This weekend there were other inaccurate and even inappropriate headlines listed under the trending section on the site. In fact, a story hailing Ann Coulter as a sexist as well as a video of a McChicken sandwich getting sexually assaulted made it to the top of the list. Facebook justified its decision to eliminate human editors last week by saying that the move was necessary in order to scale Trending topics to a broader audience.
But the company is quickly getting an education in quality content over quantity of the content that gets the title of “trending.” Most of facebook’s users, ironically, are not fact checkers or journalists. Stories that get picked up as trending usually has a lot to do with other content that people look at and click-bait can easily be misunderstood with obvious consequences to the end result. However, Trending’s reliance on clicks and re-shares in this case makes Facebook’s once-helpful news module far less useful for everyone so the moral of the story? Due your own digging and rely on news outlets for news…not social media.