Facebook 'Trending' Section Makes Editorial Gaffe After Changes to Reduce Political Bias

PAUL BLAKE
Facebook 'Trending' Section Makes Editorial Gaffe After Changes to Reduce Political Bias (ABC News)
Facebook 'Trending' Section Makes Editorial Gaffe After Changes to Reduce Political Bias (ABC News)

Facebook’s newly-tweaked “Trending” module, barely three days old, has already made its first big gaffe: promoting a seemingly baseless article about Fox News host Megyn Kelly.

The article, which features the headline “Fox News Exposes Traitor Megyn Kelly, Kicks Her Out For Backing Hillary,” was added to the trending section over the weekend, according to a source at Facebook, who said that it was reviewed on Monday and removed.

The article's promotion came after Facebook made significant changes to the influential Trending module, removing some human influence and making it more “automated,” in an effort to address bias claims that it has faced in recent months.

The changes see the module reduced to topic names and small headlines (essentially keywords) instead of snippets written and published by human beings.

Human beings are still in the mix, the company said in a blog post on its website. Topics are served up by software that monitors the network for the most talked-about news, which is then filtered for publication on the module by human beings who are charged with filtering to make sure the topics are indeed newsworthy. In wake of the report about Kelly, a Facebook spokesperson said that the company was working to strengthen its detection of fake stories.

However, according to Quartz, the changes also saw Facebook sack “the entire editorial staff” that previously worked with the module, leaving the Trending team to be “staffed entirely by engineers, who will work to check that topics and articles surfaced by the algorithms are newsworthy.”

Asked about the Quartz report, a Facebook spokesperson told ABC News in an email: “In this new version of Trending we no longer need to draft topic descriptions or summaries, and as a result we are shifting to a team with an emphasis on operations and technical skillsets, which helps us better support the new direction of the product.”

Human influence over the section, which has the ability to bring lots of eyeballs to news topics, has been the topic of heated controversy in recent months after a Gizmodo report in May in which an unnamed former journalist who worked on the project said that staff “routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers.”

In wake of the report, Facebook was forced to release more information about how the module -- which sits prominently, just to the right of users’ newsfeeds -- worked.

The company has said that it “looked into these claims and found no evidence of systematic bias,” but that making the changes, “allows our team to make fewer individual decisions about topics.”

In the blog post announcing the change the company said that it was 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.”

This article has been updated with new details and a comment from Facebook.