Facebook Trending Section Runs Viral Fake Story Days After Removing Human Editors
Facebook got rid of human editors for its trending news items feature on Friday, reassigning the task of writing headline descriptions to an algorithm.
The algorithm that controls the trending news items list on the Facebook home page has already made a serious factual error, days after assuming control from the team of human editors that used to write the descriptions for trending topics, The Washington Post reports.
The algorithm featured a story about how Fox News Channel anchor Megyn Kelly was fired for "her many endeavors to blemish GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump."
Megyn Kelly has not been fired from Fox, and her interactions with Donald Trump, while perhaps contentious, have hardly been proven hostile.
The fallacious description ran for "several hours" on Facebook, according to the Post story, which derived that estimate from Twitter mentions. Because the trending topics feature is personalized, based on factors such as location and pages users have liked in the past, it's unclear exactly how widely the story was disseminated.
On Friday, the trending topics feature was updated so that descriptions would be written by an aggregation algorithm as opposed to editorial staff. The descriptions only appear when users hover their cursor over a topic title, which is only a few words long, more like a hashtag than an actual headline.
Facebook declined to comment on the story, but a source confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the item did make it past an initial review and did appear in the list of trending new stories.
The full description for the Megyn Kelly item read: "BREAKING: Fox News Exposes Traitor Megyn Kelly, Kicks Her Out for Backing Hillary."
It continues with a less than idiomatic command of English: "Megyn Kelly has brought a lot of heat on her many endeavors to blemish GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, and the Fox News viewers are not satisfied. The Klelly Files [sic] ratings have even fallen behind Maddow Show on MSNB [sic], which is disgraceful."
The original source of the story appears to be a short post on conservative website Conservative 101, drawing from Megyn Kelly's Vanity Fair cover story from February of this year. The typo-laden copy was likely aggregated several times before appearing in Facebook's list of trending stories.
Facebook's trending feature came under fire in May when Gizmodo reported that Facebook was suppressing stories that had a conservative slant. The story cites a "former journalist who worked on the project."
The social media site's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, responded on May 12: "We take this report very seriously and are conducting a full investigation to ensure our teams upheld the integrity of this product."
"We have found no evidence that this report is true," he added.
Facebook's move to automate the trending feature comes on the heels of these criticisms of journalistic bias.