Following a meeting with conservative leaders in the US, Facebook made changes to its Trending Topics algorithm and will not supplement it with lists of external websites and news outlets to assess the importance of particular topics. The changes are aimed at reducing political bias out of its trending stories.
Facebook will not be using the “Media 1K” list, a list of RSS feeds used to supplement the algorithm that generates potential trending topics, and the top-10 list of news outlets.
The changes are in response to a Gizmodo report that the company ‘suppressed conservative news’ in its Trending Topics panel. An investigation by the Guardian showed leaked documents from Facebook, citing the Trending Topics guidelines. The guidelines don’t say anything about suppressing any kind of content, but indeed follow any typical newsroom’s approach which has in house styles and editorial guidelines.
However, Facebook said that its internal investigation did not reveal evidence of systematic political bias. But the company said that it is increasing oversight on the review team which includes a better escalation procedure. It also provided updated guidelines for what can be included in trending topics and reviewers underwent a refresher course that emphasized that content decisions may not be made on the basis of politics or ideology.
Isolated incidents cannot be helped
The company, however, concluded that it is impossible to fully exclude the possibility that, over the years of the feature’s existence, a specific reviewer took isolated actions with an improper motive.
Reviewers choose from a list of trending topics and hash tags. Once a hashtag is picked it is sent for approval to Facebook’s algorithm following which they have to write a short description once it is accepted. Reviewers do not select or control the topics that the algorithm generates for their review. “Should we learn of evidence of improper actions taken on the basis of political bias, we will take prompt remedial actions,” Facebook added in its letter to Chairman of the US Senate Commerce Committee John Thune.
Recent developments at Facebook:
– Facebook revealed that content restrictions in India dipped just a little (184 content pieces) to 14,971 in the second half of 2015, compared to 15,155 content pieces in the first half of 2015. Facebook states that the majority of the 14,971 content pieces that it blocked pertained to anti-religious and hate speech ‘that could cause unrest and disharmony within India’.
– Last month, Facebook updated its News Feed to show its users stories they actually read, rather than stories they just like, click, comment on, or share, using Instant Article metrics to judge how much time users actually spent on an article after the content is fully loaded.