It’s been a rough few days for Facebook’s Trending Topics. The company announced on Friday that it’s made the news list more automated by removing article descriptions and leaning more heavily on algorithms to produce it. The company also reportedly fired as many as 18 editorial contractors responsible for writing descriptions and ensuring the accuracy of the sources it uses. Now we’re watching the immediate — and disastrous — effects unfold.
First, there were the hilarious mix-ups. Yesterday a video of a dog reacting to seeing its owner for the first time in two years went viral. The top headline, from something called iHeartViral.com, told people they just had to watch it. And yet the Trending Topics module put the video under the headline Watch Dogs 2 — an upcoming video game about hacking and cybersecurity
Yesterday, a more serious error occurred: a fake news story about Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly’s supposed secret affinity for Hillary Clinton blew up on Facebook, landing it on top of the Trending list. Not only did the engineers (or algorithms) responsible for Trending fail to realize the story was false — it came from a partisan libertarian source called End the Fed— but Facebook also left it in the Trending module for hours to collect likes and comments. All the while, the company unwittingly gave enormous exposure to a damaging piece of false information.
So over the course of a single weekend, Facebook’s attempts to reorient one of its most prominent news products backfired in a big way. In its efforts to rely more heavily on algorithms, the company exposed a central vulnerability in its approach to news. All it took was 72 hours, and a false news story in the heat of a polarizing US election season, to show how fallible its algorithms can be.
Read more about it on The Verge: http://bit.ly/2f12xuF