It has been a week of hilarious and serious errors on Facebook's Trending, a news component on the right hand corner of the home page that is supposed to represent the trending news of the day. In an attempt to lend it authenticity and remove chances of bias, Facebook has landed in more trouble.
Started in 2014, the Trending feature has undergone changes in structure and design ever since. According to Facebook, the news trends that show up on a user's homepage depend upon personal likes, pages they follow, and whatever is trending among other users.
Earlier in July, Facebook was accused of political bias, for tweaking its news trends to influence potential voters. An article by tech site Gizmodo detailed the flaw in Facebook's claims about how the news trends feature worked.
Facebook had said that the trends were curated based on an algorithm that picked the most talked about news stories. The social networking site also hired 'journalists' to write short descriptions and blurbs for these trends, which would appear when a user hovered over the trend. But the article alleged that Facebook leaned more towards pro-Democratic sentiments.
Soon after, as media attention fell on the alleged biased curating, Facebook announced that it had fired its 'news curating' staff on August 26.
The company then also issued a clarification that the process still involved people who would make sure that the trending topics were relevant and tied to current news events. “The topic #lunch is talked about during lunchtime every day around the world, but will not be a trending topic,” Facebook pointed out. “These changes mean that we no longer need to do things like write topic descriptions and short story summaries since we’re relying on an algorithm to pull excerpts directly from news stories.”
But it looks like the algorithm has caused more mayhem than before. On August 29, the algorithm turned up news that faced outrageous and hilarious reactions from the users.
In one disturbing instance, #McChicken was trending, seemingly innocent, until users realised that it was linked to an article about a video of a man performing a sexual act. Then the algorithm picked up a fabricated news article alleging that news anchor Megyn Kelly was fired from Fox News because of her “allegiance with democrat Hillary Clinton”. The article was published from an unconfirmed source. Previously, the Trends team had a list of trusted news sources from where the content was sourced.
Not only did the algorithm fail to distinguish authentic sources, inappropriate content and relevant topics, but it also couldn't figure out whether a topic was serious or meant as a joke. For instance, Trending displayed a story about Rob Lowe's roast on Saturday Night Live, where he addressed Ann Coulter in an offensive way, albeit jokingly.