Facebook to Revamp Trending Topics Feature

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By Vlad Vidaeff

While hashtags indicate the popularity of specific topics on Twitter, Facebook has its own version with Trending Topics.  Appearing on the right side of yours newsfeed, they consist of 10-15 newsworthy topics that are updated on a daily basis.  After a political controversy, Facebook has announced that it will revamp this popular feature.  This blog will analyze how Trending Topics will change and what this means for the social media leader.

The controversy began when conservative leaders argued that Facebook’s Trending Topics feature favors liberal stories.   The controversy received national coverage and Facebook indicated that it would conduct an internal investigation on the topic.  After this investigation, the social network found “no evidence of systematic political bias” against conservatives.  Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, stated that the investigation analyzed 3,000 reviewer decisions.  Under the old system, the feature worked as a mix of human input and artificial intelligence, with potential subjects suggested by algorithm and then reviewed by staff.  It is no secret that Silicon Valley, taken as a whole, is lefty-leaning.  As a result, it’s certainly possible, that some individuals may be biased, even unintentionally, especially when it comes to a topic as important as politics.  Intent is the crux of the issue and proper training is also essential.  That is why Facebook is revamping its system to further eliminate the potential for bias.

Under Facebook’s new system, all reviewers will receive refresher training where it will be emphasized that content decisions should not be made on the basis of political favoritism or ideology.  They have also established extra controls and oversight around the review team so an independent team judges each reviewer’s decision.  In the past, reviewers relied on external websites including Buzzfeed and The Washington Post to back up their decision.  News outlets and external websites will no longer be relied upon to identify or evaluate the importance of a particular topic.

By being proactive, Facebook hopes that the matter will be put to rest and that it does not run into additional controversies down the road.   The timing of this controversy is not surprising.  With the prospect of an upcoming election, politics rise to the forefront.  This particular election has been different than all others with the strong personalities of the leading candidates and the impact that media coverage as well as social media has had on the campaign cycle.  No matter who is elected in this election, Facebook wants to make sure that it provides its users with a large variety of interesting topics that take multiple viewpoints in account.  Inclusion and free access to ideas is an important goal at Facebook and it responded to the controversy with class and vigor.


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