- Beck Diefenbach/Reuters
Facebook hasn’t given up on Trending, its news section that came under fire last year for allegedly suppressing right-leaning publishers.
After making Trending less reliant on human editors in August, Facebook announced on Wednesday that it’s making changes to give media outlets more control over which stories are surfaced to the social network’s 1.8 billion users:
Trending topics will be determined by the number of publishers that post articles about the same news story, not how many people are talking about a news story. “This should surface trending topics quicker, be more effective at capturing a broader range of news and events from around the world and also help ensure that trending topics reflect real world events being covered by multiple news outlets,” Facebook vice president of product management Will Cathcart said in a statement.
- Facebook screenshot
Each trending topic will feature a headline from a publisher, not just a general topic name. Facebook used to show headlines from news outlets until it switched to showing generic topic names, like “McDonalds” or “Mars,” last August. So this is a reversal back to the way Trending originally worked. Facebook says the headlines it picks are based on “the engagement around the article on Facebook, the engagement around the publisher overall, and whether other articles are linking to it.” The same trending topics are shown to everyone in the same region. The section used to be customized to each Facebook user. This is another move on Facebook’s part to make Trending more of a universal, authoritative news aggregator.
While Facebook fired its human editors after the conservative news fiasco last year, a spokesperson told Business Insider that its quality review team is still responsible for making sure topics “correspond to real-world events and that the product does not contain duplicate topics or spam.”
The social network’s efforts to make Trending more reliable is “at best a marginal improvement,” according to Angelo Carusone, the president of media watchdog Media Matters.
“While moving in the right direction, these half-measures will not stop the rampant lies spreading on the platform,” Carusone said in a statement to Business Insider. “We can’t forget that Facebook made the problem of fake news significantly worse when they acted on right-wing misinformation and fired all their human editors over the summer and let their algorithms get gamed.”
Facebook has been working to rebuild its reputation with news publishers after it was widely criticized for helping spread fake news around the U.S. presidential election. The company recently started working with third-party fact checkers like Snopes to weed out dubious news stories, and it recently hired former NBC anchor Campbell Brown to be its head of news partnerships.
Facebook also announced The Facebook Journalism Project earlier this month, a group of initiatives designed to make sure “that a healthy news ecosystem and journalism can thrive.”