Facebook's New Trending Algorithm Went Mad Without Human Editors


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

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You might have noticed that the “Trending” bar on the right of your Facebook homepage has changed since last week. That’s because they’ve fired members of their human editorial team and replaced them with an algorithm. Unfortunately, the algorithm quickly picked up on some less-than-favorable trending stories and began spouting bizarre, gross, and simply made-up stories.

Facebook announced the change on Friday, saying: “Our goal is to enable Trending for as many people as possible, which would be hard to do if we relied solely on summarizing topics by hand.” Facebook also faced allegations in May that people were unfairly biasing and guiding what appeared on the trending bar.


Over the weekend, the new system started facing problems. On Sunday, the trending bar featured “Megyn Kelly” and linked to two headlines claiming that anchor Megyn Kelly was fired from Fox News for supporting Hillary Clinton. Despite the story being false, the article was shared enough to end up in the trending bar for several hours, after which it was eventually removed.


Facebook previously stuck to a list of trusted media outlets to avoid a mess-up of this kind. The Guardian reports both the sites in question would not have been on this list. Of course, they also had the human touch to curate and make more on-the-spot judgments.

"McChicken" also made a cameo in the trending bar for a few hours, referring to a viral video of a man masturbating with a McChicken burger. 

It's perhaps not the grand entry Facebook was hoping for, particularly after months of people complaining about a human presence in the trending topics bar. Nevertheless, it serves as a cautionary tale that the computer revolution isn't quite ready to steal all of our jobs just yet. 



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