The Washington Post is running an incredible series of articles detailing how a small tweak to Facebook's 'trending topic' feature (namely the firing of its human editorial team in favour of engineers and algorithms) has led to Facebook frequently highlighting false or misleading news stories in people's newsfeeds.
This is even more alarming in the context of Brexit, the rise of Trump, and the refugee crisis where false stories and conspiracies have had a huge influence on public opinion.
We discuss artificial intelligence and algorithms a lot in this space, deservedly so, they are wonders of engineering achievement. But when it comes to news content, the human editor is still king – and should stay so.
As part of a larger audit of Facebook’s Trending topics, the Intersect logged every news story that trended across four accounts during the workdays from Aug. 31 to Sept. 22. During that time, we uncovered five trending stories that were indisputably fake and three that were profoundly inaccurate. On top of that, we found that news releases, blog posts from sites such as Medium and links to online stores such as iTunes regularly trended. Facebook declined to comment about Trending on the record. “I’m not at all surprised how many fake stories have trended,” one former member of the team that used to oversee Trending told the Post. “It was beyond predictable by anyone who spent time with the actual functionality of the product, not just the code.”