AN innocuous-seeming little sidebar module that has become the seething epicenter of controversy over bias and fake news—is getting another reboot.
In another push to improve the scope and quality of news users see on Facebook FB +1.62%, the company unveiled several updates to its prominent “Trending” topics feature on Wednesday.
PRIOR TO WEDNESDAY’S UPDATE, USERS SAW ABOUT A DOZEN TRENDING TOPICS
Prior to Wednesday’s update, users saw about a dozen trending topics based on many factors such as their personal interests and which articles were getting the most buzz on the social network. Now, trending topics will no longer be personalized, and every user in the same region will see identical topics. And instead of creating a trending topic based on high engagement around a single post or article, which may not be a widely relevant, quality story, Facebook is now weighing the number of publishers posting articles about the same topic and the engagement around the group of articles as a whole. Facebook is also giving users more context on trending topics by displaying a publisher’s headline alongside a topic. Before Wednesday, users could only see a short topic title and needed to hover over the topic to see a headline. The changes begin rolling out this week and will be available to all U.S. users in the coming weeks, Facebook said.
FACEBOOK VP OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT WILL CATHCART
Facebook VP of product management Will Cathcart said in a blog post that the changes should improve the company’s ability to highlight a broader range of news and events from around the world, ensure that trending topics “reflect real world events being covered by multiple news outlets” and refresh topics more quickly.
“This is designed to help make sure people don’t miss important topics being discussed on Facebook that might not show up in their News Feed,” Cathcart said.
FACEBOOK SAID THE HEADLINE ADDITION WAS THE MOST REQUESTED TRENDING
Facebook said the headline addition was the most requested Trending update among users since the company last updated the feature in August. Facebook said headlines will be automatically selected based on factors such as the engagement around a specific article on Facebook, interactions with the publisher as a whole and whether other stories link to the article, which should help ensure the article is reliable.
After coming under intense scrutiny after the U.S. presidential election around its handling of fake and hoax news on the social network, Facebook has taken a series of steps to make it easier for users to consume quality news on Facebook, promote news literacy on and off its site and to build a better relationship with publishers. Most recently, Facebook unveiled a new program called the “Facebook Journalism Project” with three main goals: Work with journalists to build storytelling tools and monetization options, offer more training to journalists on how to use Facebook as a resource and partner with third parties such as the News Literacy Project to produce a series of ads to help inform the public.