Ever since it laid off the editorial staff and put its faith in algorithms last year, Facebook’s Trending Topics section has brought the social network nothing but problems. Now, the company has overhauled the system, removing the personalized element and fighting back against the spread of fake news.
Announcing the changes in a blog post, Will Cathcart, VP of Product Management, revealed that users would no longer see Trending Topics stories based on what Facebook thinks are their interests; instead, everyone in the same country will now see the same list of items. “This is designed to help make sure people don't miss important topics being discussed on Facebook that might not show up in their News Feed,” he writes.
In an attempt to avoid spreading fake news, Trending Topics will no longer surface items based on high engagement around a single post or article. It will instead feature stories that have been reported by a number of media outlets. “We think it’ll help [minimize] cases where maybe one specific story goes viral even if there might not be something real going on in the world about that story,” explained Cathcart.
Additionally, the revamp sees publishers' headlines appear beneath the trending topic subject, along with the name of the outlet it originates from. Previously, users had to hover over an article to see this information. It may not seem like much of a change but Facebook claims it was the “most requested feature.”
Fake and “profoundly inaccurate” news stories have plagued Facebook’s Trending Topics section since the algorithmically-driven process replaced editorial staff back in August last year, following accusations of political bias. The problem got so bad that Mark Zuckerberg was forced to deny that fake news had influenced the US election – a statement not everyone, including some of his own staff, agrees with.