Facebook said Friday it has made a change to its Trending Topics section, following allegations that staff members suppressed stories with a conservative viewpoint.
Facebook decided to automate more of the trending section, which has the effect of making it look more like Twitter, with a title and the number of people talking about the topic. Facebook removed topic descriptions and summaries written by staff members and will instead use an algorithm to pull out key details.
Here’s how Facebook described the changes:
Instead of seeing a story description in Trending, you’ll now see a simplified topic — for example, #PhelpsFace or NASA — as well as the number of people talking about that particular topic on Facebook. This is based on the number of original posts that mention the topic and shares of posts about the topic.
To see more about what people are saying about a topic, you can hover over it or click on it. A search results page will include the news sources that are covering it, posts discussing it and an automatically selected original news story with an excerpt pulled directly from the top article itself. As before, articles and posts that appear in search results are surfaced algorithmically, based on a high volume of mentions and a sharp increase in mentions over a short period of time.
Facebook said staff members are still involved. They make sure newsworthy topics show up in the trending sections over recurring topics like discussions of midday activities under #lunch. Trends shown to each user depend on location, pages they like and previous trending topics they’ve interacted with.
Facebook came under fire last year after Gizmodo reported that former Facebook workers who worked as “news curators” on the trending team wielded influence over what made it into the influential section. The site said that human biases and editorial judgment being imposed onto topics generated by an algorithm was in “stark contrast” to Facebook’s own Help Center information about how Trending Topics are compiled. Facebook said in Friday’s release that it found no evidence of bias in its system, but automating parts of the process keeps individuals from having to make decisions on trending topics.
“Facebook is a platform for all ideas, and we’re committed to maintaining Trending as a way for people to access a breadth of ideas and commentary about a variety of topics,” the company said in the release.