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Facebook Tweaks Trending Topics By Taking It Out Of Human Hands

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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Facebook may be trying to get rid of any alleged bias in its recently controversial Trending Topics feature by getting rid of the human oversight that may have caused bias in the first place.

According to The AP, Facebook will be significantly reducing the role of editors in programming the trending section, which came under fire earlier this year after a Gizmodo article accused the social-media giant of suppressing stories of interest to conservative users. Mark Zuckerberg responded emphatically at the time, assuring users that both he and the company were absolutely "committed to building a platform for all ideas."

Topics appearing in the trending section of Facebook are selected by an algorithm that considers how often they are posted or shared. Moving forward, these trending lists will still be reviewed by editors, but the features themselves will no longer include headlines or summaries written by people. Instead, Facebook will now show each subject along with the number of people currently discussing it, a selection of user comments, and an excerpt from the news article.

"Our goal is to enable Trending for as many people as possible, which would be hard to do if we relied solely on summarising topics by hand," the company explained in a statement posted to its newsroom. "A more algorithmically driven process allows us to scale Trending to cover more topics and make it available to more people globally over time."

As for the allegations of political bias that surfaced around the feature earlier this year, Facebook maintains its nonpartisan stance: "We looked into these claims and found no evidence of systematic bias. Still, making these changes to the product allows our team to make fewer individual decisions about 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."
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