Facebook, other big techs struggle to find the right solution to news curation
The social network Facebook’s decision to take human beings out of the news curation business is already leading to some embarrassing content leading its Trending list. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, because while humans may prove to be occasionally biased, depending on algorithms can lead to rather random stories rising to the top of any list.
On Friday of last week, Facebook laid off its Trending team, some 15 to 18 people Quartz reported. That team had been the target of claims of bias by some conservative websites, and resulted in a meeting between CEO Mark Zuckerberg and media representatives. Now they gone.
“There are still people involved in this process to ensure that the topics that appear in Trending remain high-quality — for example, confirming that a topic is tied to a current news event in the real world,” Facebook said in a blog post last week.
In other words, instead of an editorial team deciding what should be trending, a smaller group of individuals will be simply checking to see if the trend itself is real. It’s an odd job, that’s for sure, and so far the results have been the source of more trouble for Facebook.
Megyn Kelly is trending on Facebook for an article that has no basis in reality. pic.twitter.com/31f4ERnzHI
— Kyle Blaine (@kyletblaine) August 29, 2016
“But just days after the policy change, Facebook’s algorithm chose a very bad, factually incorrect headline to explain to its news-hungry users why Megyn Kelly was trending,” The Washington Post reported today.
“The headline, which was visible to anyone who hovered over Megyn Kelly’s name on the Trending list, refers to the Fox News personality as a “traitor” and claims that the cable channel has “Kick[ed] her out for backing Hillary.” (They have not.)”
Media websites are piling on.
“There were so many problems with this story, ranging from plagiarism to falsity, that even a fairly simple-minded robot editor should have caught them,” wrote Annalee Newitz, Tech Culture Editor at Ars Technica. “The Trending algorithm is clearly not ready for prime time, or maybe Facebook is just trying to redefine what it calls ‘a breadth of ideas and commentary about a variety of topics.'”
Facebook’s issues with news curation are nothing new. Apple, Google and other big techs have face criticism in the past for failing to be transparent in their methods, or being biased against certainly news sources. Just who or how one story gets elevated to the top of the list is of importance to media companies struggling to maintain or grow their audiences.
But bias is not always a negative thing. One should be biased toward truth versus fiction, thoroughness versus brevity, etc. Many of these big tech or social networking sites have been accused of being biased towards big traditional media brands such as The New York Times, ignoring other media properties read by fringes of the political spectrum. But that seems preferable to me than relying on solely on an algorithm that only detects popularly on the web.
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) August 29, 2016