Late last week Facebook announced it was changing the way the Trending section was curated, moving away from human editors building and maintaining it and toward a system that just pulled topics automatically. This is largely a reaction to the controversy that broke earlier this year when a former Trending employee accused the system of pulling only from a certain amount of white-listed sites and betraying a liberal political bias. That escalated to the point where Zuckerberg was pulled into Washington to explain himself. So instead of having humans writing topic heds and short descriptions, that section will now just show the topic name and the number of people the algorithm says are talking about it. Engineers will be the only humans double-checking things to make sure it’s reflective of reality.
This is..troubling. Facebook has long functioned on multiple fronts by saying human beings aren’t doing X, the algorithm is, ignoring the fact that biases can be and are built into the algorithms that are written by human beings. Eliminating the human checks and balances is giving our information choices over completely to the machines, which is not the direction we should be going in.
Not only does Facebook want to eliminate as much of the human factor as possible from its system, but it wants to really show that people are talking about current news and other topics on the network. One of the common criticisms leveled against Facebook is that it’s 24-48 hours behind more newsy networks like Twitter. So it needs to make Trending relevant to the public because it encourages them to not just post the pictures from the family vacation but about the news and other topics that are immediately relevant.