Amid controversy about a potential political bias, Facebook will be changing its algorithm on how it generates its trending topics.
Before we dive too far in, let’s take a look at what makes something trend on Facebook:
In early 2014, the social media giant introduced Trending Topics to its newsfeed. Each topic is divided into one of 5 different categories, including top trends, politics, science and technology, entertainment, and sports.
The way they determine what stories trend is similar to what Twitter does with its topics, but unlike its competition, Facebook’s results are a little more personalized to a certain extent. What will appear in that little sidebar is dependent on factors such as overall engagement (likes, shares, comments), timeliness, your location, and what Pages you’ve liked.
Now that we’re caught up, let’s get into this story:
Recently, the tech site Gizmodo cited an anonymous source who told them “news sources” were instructed to artificially insert stories into their list. More particularly, there were allegations of a liberal bias as more conservative-focused news items were not showing up on the side bar, despite trending organically amongst individual users.
Facebook has denied the allegations. According to a statement by founder Mark Zuckerberg, “We’ve built Facebook to be a platform for all ideas. Our community’s success depends on everyone feeling comfortable sharing anything they want. It doesn’t make sense for our mission or our business to suppress political content or prevent anyone from seeing what matters most to them.”
An investigation was launched. According to results, they found “no evidence of systematic political bias in the selection or prominence of stories included in the Trending Topics feature.” However, they were unable to rule out the possibility of an individual going rogue and suppressing a story themselves, or if there was an unintentional bias.
Despite no evidence of wrongdoing, Facebook will soon implement new policies in regards to its trending topics, including:
- No longer relying on a select list of news outlets and websites as a way to automatically nominate topics.
- Introducing refresher courses for all reviewers on staff, and adding more information in its help center about how Trending Topics are populated.
- Topics will be determined by what users are talking about, rather than also taking into consideration the results from external websites and news sites. In the past, Facebook had relied on a list of RSS media feeds.
Will this make a difference? Will we start seeing changes anytime soon? We’ll have to keep checking to find out.
Southern, Matt. “Facebook Introduces Trending Topics, Here’s How They Differ From Twitter’s.” Search Engine Journal. https://www.searchenginejournal.com/facebook-introduces-trending-topics-heres-differ-twitters/86583/ January 17, 2014
“How does Facebook determine what topics are trending?” Facebook Help Center. https://www.facebook.com/help/737806312958641
Newcomb, Alyssa. “Facebook Treding Topics Will Undergo Changes Following Allegations of Political Bias.” ABC News. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/facebook-trending-topics-undergo-allegations-political-bias/story?id=39331420 May 24, 2016
Kawamoto, Dawn. “Facebook Revamps Trending Topics Following Bias Allegations.” InformationWeek. http://www.informationweek.com/government/facebook-revamps-trending-topics-following-bias-allegations/d/d-id/1325654 May 25, 2016