Facebook kills 'trending' topics, tests breaking news label - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Facebook kills 'trending' topics, tests breaking news label

Posted: Updated:

By BARBARA ORTUTAY
AP Technology Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Facebook is shutting down its ill-fated "trending" news section after four years, a company executive told The Associated Press.

The company claims the tool is outdated and wasn't popular.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.

Facebook is now testing new features, including a "breaking news" label that publishers can add to stories to distinguish them from other chatter. Facebook also wants to make local news more prominent.

"It's very good to get rid of 'trending,'" said Frank Pasquale, a law professor at the University of Maryland and expert on algorithms and society. He said algorithms are good for very narrow, well-defined tasks. By contrast, he said, deciding what news stories should go in "trending" requires broad thinking, quick judgments about context and decisions about whether someone is trying to game the system.

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.

According to the Pew Research Center, 44 percent of U.S. adults get some or all of their news through Facebook.

Troubles with the trending section began to emerge in 2016, when the company was accused of bias against conservatives, based on the words of an anonymous former contractor who said Facebook downplayed conservative issues in that feature and promoted liberal causes. Zuckerberg met with prominent right-wing leaders at the company's headquarters in an attempt at damage control. Yet two years later, Facebook still hasn't been able to shake the notion of bias.

In late 2016, Facebook fired the human editors who worked on the trending topics and replaced them with software that was supposed to be free of political bias. Instead, the software algorithm began to pick out posts that were getting the most attention, even if the information in them was bogus. In early 2017, Facebook made another attempt to fix the trending section, this time by including only topics covered by several news publishers. The thinking was that coverage by just one outlet could be a sign that the news is fake.

The troubles underscore the difficulty of relying on computers, even artificial intelligence, to make sense of the messy human world without committing obvious, sometimes embarrassing and occasionally disastrous errors.

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.

"What they are not doing is giving an overall account of their mission on how these fixes fit together," Pasquale said.

The "breaking news" label that Facebook is testing with 80 news publishers around the world will let outlets such as The Washington Post add a red label to indicate that a story is breaking news, highlighting it for users who want accurate information as things are happening.

"Breaking news has to look different than a recipe," Hardiman said.

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.

Hardiman said ending the trending section feels like letting a child go. But she said Facebook's focus now is prioritizing trustworthy, informative news that people find useful.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Hot ClicksHot ClicksMore>>

  • Trump's 'go back' remark: In workplace, it might be illegal

    Trump's 'go back' remark: In workplace, it might be illegal

    Sunday, July 21 2019 9:01 AM EDT2019-07-21 13:01:55 GMT
    (WSET-TV via AP). FILE - This Tuesday, July 16, 2019 image from video provided by WSET-TV shows a sign for the Friendship Baptist Church which reads, "America: Love it or Leave It" in Appomattox, Va. Amid a national furor over President Donald Trump’s ...(WSET-TV via AP). FILE - This Tuesday, July 16, 2019 image from video provided by WSET-TV shows a sign for the Friendship Baptist Church which reads, "America: Love it or Leave It" in Appomattox, Va. Amid a national furor over President Donald Trump’s ...
    (WSET-TV via AP). FILE - This Tuesday, July 16, 2019 image from video provided by WSET-TV shows a sign for the Friendship Baptist Church which reads, "America: Love it or Leave It" in Appomattox, Va. Amid a national furor over President Donald Trump’s ...(WSET-TV via AP). FILE - This Tuesday, July 16, 2019 image from video provided by WSET-TV shows a sign for the Friendship Baptist Church which reads, "America: Love it or Leave It" in Appomattox, Va. Amid a national furor over President Donald Trump’s ...
    Trump's "go back" remark to 4 Democratic lawmakers of color: In a workplace, it could be illegal.More >>
    Trump's "go back" remark to 4 Democratic lawmakers of color: In a workplace, it could be illegal.More >>
  • Besieged Puerto Rico governor goes quiet amid protests

    Besieged Puerto Rico governor goes quiet amid protests

    Sunday, July 21 2019 9:01 AM EDT2019-07-21 13:01:39 GMT
    (AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo). A demonstrator with a Puerto Rican flag reacts during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands fo...(AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo). A demonstrator with a Puerto Rican flag reacts during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands fo...
    (AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo). A demonstrator with a Puerto Rican flag reacts during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands fo...(AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo). A demonstrator with a Puerto Rican flag reacts during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands fo...
    In the Spanish colonial fortress that serves as his official residence, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is under siege.More >>
    In the Spanish colonial fortress that serves as his official residence, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is under siege.More >>
  • Iran says its seizure of British ship a 'reciprocal' move

    Iran says its seizure of British ship a 'reciprocal' move

    Sunday, July 21 2019 9:01 AM EDT2019-07-21 13:01:07 GMT
    (Stena Bulk via AP). In this undated photo issued Friday July 19, 2019, by Stena Bulk, showing the British oil tanker Stena Impero at unknown location, which is believed to have been captured by Iran.  Iran’s Revolutionary Guard announced on their webs...(Stena Bulk via AP). In this undated photo issued Friday July 19, 2019, by Stena Bulk, showing the British oil tanker Stena Impero at unknown location, which is believed to have been captured by Iran. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard announced on their webs...
    (Stena Bulk via AP). In this undated photo issued Friday July 19, 2019, by Stena Bulk, showing the British oil tanker Stena Impero at unknown location, which is believed to have been captured by Iran.  Iran’s Revolutionary Guard announced on their webs...(Stena Bulk via AP). In this undated photo issued Friday July 19, 2019, by Stena Bulk, showing the British oil tanker Stena Impero at unknown location, which is believed to have been captured by Iran. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard announced on their webs...
    Report: Iran says it seized a British oil tanker over a collision with a fishing boat.More >>
    Report: Iran says it seized a British oil tanker over a collision with a fishing boat.More >>
  • More NewsMore>>

  • Arson could be to blame for Youngstown fire that killed three dogs

    Arson could be to blame for Youngstown fire that killed three dogs

    Sunday, July 21 2019 9:06 AM EDT2019-07-21 13:06:49 GMT

    Fire officials believe arson is to blame for a Youngstown house fire where three dogs died.  

    More >>

    Fire officials believe arson is to blame for a Youngstown house fire where three dogs died.  

    More >>
  • Nation marks 50 years after Apollo 11's 'giant leap' on moon

    Nation marks 50 years after Apollo 11's 'giant leap' on moon

    Sunday, July 21 2019 9:01 AM EDT2019-07-21 13:01:59 GMT
    (Neil Armstrong/NASA via AP). In this July 20, 1969 photo made available by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity.(Neil Armstrong/NASA via AP). In this July 20, 1969 photo made available by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity.
    (Neil Armstrong/NASA via AP). In this July 20, 1969 photo made available by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity.(Neil Armstrong/NASA via AP). In this July 20, 1969 photo made available by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity.
    Celebrations are in full swing across the country for the 50th anniversary of humanity's first footsteps on the moon.More >>
    Celebrations are in full swing across the country for the 50th anniversary of humanity's first footsteps on the moon.More >>
  • Local astronaut arrives at International Space Station on Apollo anniversary

    Local astronaut arrives at International Space Station on Apollo anniversary

    Sunday, July 21 2019 8:59 AM EDT2019-07-21 12:59:25 GMT
    U.S. astronaut Andrew Morgan - AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, PooU.S. astronaut Andrew Morgan - AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, Poo
    U.S. astronaut Andrew Morgan - AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, PooU.S. astronaut Andrew Morgan - AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, Poo

    It was a historic day for a NASA astronaut who calls New Castle home, as Andrew Morgan arrived at the International Space Station on the moon landing's 50th anniversary Saturday. 

    More >>

    It was a historic day for a NASA astronaut who calls New Castle home, as Andrew Morgan arrived at the International Space Station on the moon landing's 50th anniversary Saturday. 

    More >>
Powered by Frankly
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2019 WFMJ. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms