Anyone who uses Facebook has noticed the trending news sidebar. This is theoretically supposed to be a list of topics users are currently discussing. However, the feature came under attack in June when Gizmodo reported on its supposed liberal bias.
In August, Facebook fired their human editors and replaced them with what most wrongly thought to be purely algorithmic curation. But, instead they shifted to a team with more “technical skill-sets.”
Surprisingly, the situation only got worse when Facebook featured an article on the trending news sidebar that claimed to discuss footage revealing that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were actually a planned demolition on the Anniversary of the terror attacks.
In other words, just short of their 13th birthday they figured, as any 13 year old might, that this was informative trending news topic.
While Facebook attempted to blame the debacle on algorithms, it was, in fact, a more human issue. According to the company’s press release, while humans on the trending news team review topics, they mostly work to make sure that the topics in question correspond to “current news events.”
Facebook’s trending news staffers are supposed to follow a multistage set of guidelines for accepting a topic. For example, during the NBA Finals curators wouldn’t promote an article about LeBron James, as a trending news article, just because he was playing in the game.
They would only accept an article about him if he did something significant in the game, like making a “game-winning shot in Game 2 of the finals.”
It’s not easy to understand how such an offensive article about 9/11 made it past the diligent trending news team. Although, it may be possible that the Facebook employees were trying to counteract the continuous claims of bias by showing both sides of the issue.
Unfortunately, in this case, the other side of the issue may not only be offensively wrong, but may even be unbalanced.
For now, however, Facebook has done what any other company, that has posted something offensive has done, they removed the “trending news” article.
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the trending news topic wasn’t active any longer in Slate:
“We’re aware a hoax article showed up there and as a temporary step to resolving this we’ve removed the topic.” It seems possible that Facebook trending itself won’t be long for the world either. We’ll just have to wait and see.