Facebook may replace ‘Trending’ Topics with ‘Breaking News’ Label
Facebook, an American online social media and social networking service company based in California is likely to replace ‘Trending’ Topics with ‘Breaking News’ Label. Facebook is shutting down its ill-fated “trending” news section after four years. The company claims the tool is outdated and wasn’t popular. But the trending section also proved problematic in ways that would presage Facebook’s later problems with fake news, political balance and the limitations of artificial intelligence in managing the messy human world.
When Facebook launched “trending” in 2014 as a list of headlines to the side of the main news feed, it was a straightforward move to steal users from Twitter by giving them a quick look at the most popular news of the moment. It fit nicely into CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s pledge just a year earlier to make Facebook its users’ “personal newspaper.” But that was then. “Fake news” wasn’t yet a popular term, and no foreign country had been accused of trying to influence the U.S. elections through social media, as Russia later would be. Trending news that year included the death of Robin Williams, Ebola and the World Cup.
In an interview ahead of Friday’s announcement, Facebook’s head of news products, Alex Hardiman, said the company is still committed to breaking and real-time news. But instead of having Facebook’s moderators, human or otherwise, make editorial decisions, there’s been a subtle shift to let news organizations do so.
Ultimately, Facebook appears to conclude that trying to fix the headaches around trending wasn’t worth the meager benefit the company, users and news publishers saw in it. “There are other ways for us to better invest our resources,” Hardiman said.
Pasquale said Facebook’s new efforts represent “very slow steps” toward an acknowledgement that the company is making editorial judgments when it decides what news should be shown to users — and that it needs to empower journalists and editors to do so. But what needs to happen now, he added, is a broad shift in the company’s corporate culture, recognizing the expertise involved in journalistic judgment. The changes and features Facebook is putting out, he said, are being treated as “bug fixes” — addressing single problems the way engineers do.
Another feature, called “Today In,” shows people breaking news in their area from local publishers, officials and organizations. It’s being tested out in 30 markets in the U.S. Hardiman says the goal is to help “elevate great local journalism.” The company is also funding news videos, created exclusively for Facebook by outside publishers it would not yet name. It plans to launch this feature in the next few months.
Facebook says the trending section wasn’t a popular feature to begin with. It was available only in five countries and accounted for less than 1.5 percent of clicks to the websites of news publishers, according to the company. While Facebook got outsized attention for the problems the trending section had — perhaps because it seemed popular with journalists and editors — neither its existence nor its removal makes much of a difference when it comes with Facebook’s broader problems with news.
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