Social networking giant Facebook faced a hail of outcry in May when a Gizmodo report said the company was regularly suppressing conservative news from making it to the “Trending” section on the website. The website issued a denial at the time, but three months later, Facebook announced last week it was reducing the number of human news curators and was automating most of the process for choosing stories for the “Trending” section by assigning the task to an algorithm.
And in something like a geometric progression nightmare, only three days after it made the change, a fake news story made it past its algorithm and sat on top of the “Trending” section till a review identified it as fraudulent and it was removed it. But the damage, as is often the case with things on the internet, was already done.
For one, it seriously undermined the company’s assurance “that the topics that appear in Trending remain high-quality — for example, confirming that a topic is tied to a current news event in the real world.”
Two, the search page that opens when clicking on a trending topic will show “articles and posts that … are surfaced algorithmically, based on a high volume of mentions and a sharp increase in mentions over a short period of time.” That sort of algorithm can be easy to beat, as was proved Monday morning when a fake news story about Fox News firing Megyn Kelly (ostensibly for supporting Hillary Clinton) made it to the top of the page.
There were also a couple of other instances over the weekend where Facebook’s new algorithm wasn’t quite up to the mark, when a story calling right-wing commentator Ann Coulter a curse word and another linking to a video of a man masturbating with a McDonald’s sandwich made the cut as well.