Facebook has reduced the amount of human involvement that goes into its Trending Topics section. The social network has laid off the entire editorial staff who curated the stories and wrote the short descriptions. Now, the news items will appear as a single word or short phrase, along with the number of users discussing the topic.
Facebook said in a statement that the move to a more algorithmic-based process would “enable Trending for as many people as possible, which would be hard to do if we relied solely on summarizing topics by hand.”
“A more algorithmically driven process allows us to scale Trending to cover more topics and make it available to more people globally over time. This is something we always hoped to do but we are making these changes sooner given the feedback we got from the Facebook community earlier this year.”
Back in May, several former news curators claimed the company routinely suppressed stories in its Trending Topics section that supported conservative political viewpoints, something Facebook vigorously denied.
The ex-employees also told Gizmodo that they were instructed to inject selected stories into the news section, including those not popular enough to warrant inclusion.
A Senate Commerce Committee inquiry found “no evidence of systematic political bias” in Facebook’s feature, and that rates of approval for conservative and liberal topics were virtually identical in Trending Topics. Nevertheless, the company brought in changes, including scrapping its top-10 list of news outlets which reviewers used to assign “importance levels” to Trending Topic items.
Facebook’s latest update to Trending Topics will bring more automation to the system and allows its team to “make fewer individual decisions about topics.” The section will continue to be monitored by a small group of engineers, who will screen items to make sure they are newsworthy. The topic #lunch, for example, is mentioned millions of times every day, but Facebook doesn’t want it appearing as a story.
Quartz reports that the Trending Topics editorial team, which comprised of 15 -18 people contracted through a third-party, were given severance equal to pay through September 1, plus two weeks.
“Facebook is a platform for all ideas, and we’re committed to maintaining Trending as a way for people to access a breadth of ideas and commentary about a variety of topics,” the company added.