Speaking at the TechCrunch Disrupt SF, Facebook’s News Feed head, Adam Mosseri said that Facebook will soon weed out fake stories from trending topics. This move comes after the infamous firing of the editorial team who managed the Trending Topics that appear next to Facebook’s News Feed. Facebook is now working on technology that will help prevent fake news stories from showing up in the Trending section. Similar systems have been rolled out to News Feed in recent months, and now that same technology is making its way to Trending.
The social network received flak earlier this year for allegedly suppressing conservative news from appearing in the Trending Topics section. Facebook, which boasts of more than 1.7 billion visitors each month, was caught in a controversy last month for promoting a fake news story about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. The news report claimed Fox News had fired Kelly for "backing Hillary," a reference to the Democratic candidate for president of the United States.
It was however later concluded that this was actually due to individual judgment, not Facebook’s bias, the company took the controversial measure of firing the entire team of Trending Topics news curators.
It is a different debate altogether that the current set up in which the product works entirely using scientific algorithm is now being seen as worse experience. This is because a lot of fake news tend to show up as a trending topic which would not be the case only if a human editorial team would catch and eliminate it. Facebook took this call because “we wanted to be clear – in the wake of a lot of feedback – about our role and the role of people in the Trending product.” Mosseri explained speaking at the event.
Mosseri, however, said that lack of human editors is not the reason behind this. “That doesn’t mean it’s okay,” he added. He went on to explain how the absence of human editors curating what’s trending actually makes the product highly scalable to its international users. He explained that one prominent issue earlier was that the captions that explained the stories were only in English. “A system where we talk about the topic and the number of people speaking about the topic actually scales better internationally,” said Mosseri, “and we care a lot about scaling.”
He further explained that Facebook tried to ensure that they have one experience that adapts based on usage across the world, and not to have different types of products in different countries which could become much more difficult to maintain and execute.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement, not only with Trending but also with News Feed,” he said. He admitted however that Trending product still has a long way to go and needs a lot of work. Facebook has developed systems to suppress fake stories, hoaxes and click bait for News Feed and now it plans to apply this to Trending topics as well.
“We’ve actually spent a lot of time on News Feed to reduce [fake stories and hoaxes’] prevalence in the ecosystem,” said Mosseri. “We’re doing now some more similar work in Trending to improve the experience in a similar way.”
Both Facebook and Twitter recently also joined The First Draft Coalition, a network of more than 30 international media companies and organizations that aim to improve the quality of information found online by sniffing out hoaxes and fake news reports. The First Draft Coalition's partner network, which includes outlets such as the New York Times and CNN, is intended to train journalists in how to use the web to find and report news.