I Read the News Today, Oh Boy
May 9, 2016 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Facebook workers say 'trending news' section is manipulated The revelations undermine any presumption of Facebook as a neutral pipeline for news, or the trending news module as an algorithmically-driven list of what people are actually talking about.
posted by modernnomad (113 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
It has always seemed obvious to me that the trending news is fairly bogus and mainuplated. I mean, I'm fairly certain that the New York City Half Marathon wasn't trending anywhere other than in New York City this March, and among people who already have running listed as one of their interests.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:11 AM on May 9, 2016 [16 favorites]


Even if it was "algorithmically-driven," algorithms are based on data that reflect systemic biases already existing in the system. There is no perfect algorithm to represent trending news.
posted by demiurge at 7:12 AM on May 9, 2016 [20 favorites]


Stories covered by conservative outlets (like Breitbart, Washington Examiner, and Newsmax) that were trending enough to be picked up by Facebook’s algorithm were excluded unless mainstream sites like the New York Times, the BBC, and CNN covered the same stories.

That seems... sensible? I'm sure Breitbart gets shared like crazy, but it isn't news.
posted by Artw at 7:13 AM on May 9, 2016 [87 favorites]


This is my surprised face: :|
posted by briank at 7:19 AM on May 9, 2016 [13 favorites]


Good heavens!
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:20 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


“I believe it had a chilling effect on conservative news,” the former curator said.

Uh, why? He/she thinks that conservatives are lacking for conservative news being shared by their own conservative friends and need to depend on FB's "so-called-trending-news" section?

Considering that we know that FB manipulates the feed of status updates from our own friends, I don't see why anyone would expect the "trending news" section to be un-curated.
posted by desuetude at 7:21 AM on May 9, 2016 [11 favorites]


I really wanted to interpret this as some kind of scandalous revelation based on the headline, because I am not a fan of Facebook and love it when they look bad in the press, but yeah, this all seems like pretty reasonable quality control measures,c which they've since backed off as their models have gotten better. I guess the real mistake was to call it "trending" since that implies a level of crowdsourcing that wasn't really going on.
posted by town of cats at 7:23 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Wasn't there a lot of contemporary talk here about how Facebook was suppressing news about Ferguson and other incidents following unarmed black men being killed by cops? Would we hear about that from people who support conservative news?
posted by indubitable at 7:24 AM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Several former Facebook “news curators,” as they were known internally, also told Gizmodo that they were instructed to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all.

This does not surprise me, as once a week I will get a trending "news" item that a television show has aired its latest episode, with the full title of the episode included. What I do wonder is whether "Once Upon A Time" and the like are paying for the privilege of having their stories "injected" into the news feed like this.
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:26 AM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


If the algorithms had a bias against "bad news" like black men getting shot, I wouldn't be surprised at all. It seems like a reasonable heuristic until it turns into suppression of major news.
posted by GuyZero at 7:27 AM on May 9, 2016


In other words, Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation.

QFT.

Remember this, whenever you read the news.

Deliciously ironic too that the Gawker story ends with this disclaimer:

[Disclosure: Facebook has launched a program that pays publishers, including the New York Times and Buzzfeed, to produce videos for its Facebook Live tool. Gawker Media, Gizmodo’s parent company, recently joined that program.]
posted by chavenet at 7:28 AM on May 9, 2016 [11 favorites]


There certainly seems to be no shortage of conservative BS on Facebook, and this will only serve to further fuel the martyrdom complex so many conservatives already have. ArtW is right that a lot of what is labeled news by conservative media outlets is nonsense. I usually ignore that stuff when posted by someone I know but if I'm bored I may see what the fuss is about. I think the last headline I clicked on was something like "Former White House Intern Reveals The Truth About Hillary Clinton." It turned out that an intern who shared a cubicle with Monica Lewinski thought that Hillary Clinton wasn't very friendly. And that was it. So yeah, there is a lot of stuff out there that isn't news. It concerns me that people even look at Facebook as a news source in the first place, given the random nature of stuff that gets posted there (I always enjoy it when a bunch of people get upset about a celebrity death when it gets reposted from several years ago).
posted by TedW at 7:28 AM on May 9, 2016 [7 favorites]


Surprise Level: Zero.

I always assumed them to be curated, and poorly so. Given the sheer irrelevance of the trending news items and the ads to my personal interests, I really have no idea how anyone is making money off this thing. Enh.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:32 AM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


I believe it had a chilling effect on conservative news

Oh yes, the known liberal bias of wealthy corporations. They're always pushing for higher taxes and more wealth redistribution.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:35 AM on May 9, 2016 [22 favorites]


*gasp*
posted by infini at 7:37 AM on May 9, 2016


ug. Better than CNN's trending news stories. I sit across from a tv that our company requires play either CNN or Fox all day long. The current CNN headline is: SOME GOP DONORS HOLD OFF ON TRUMP DONATIONS

thanks, cnn
posted by rebent at 7:37 AM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


If it keeps me from having to read another, "Clinton Foundation money used to abort children in secret server closet with Vince Foster's scalloped shin bones during Benghazi attacks!!!1!" then please, continue on FB.
posted by Slackermagee at 7:39 AM on May 9, 2016 [21 favorites]


I happily embrace FB Purity's blocking of that module. Usually it's information I'm not only happy not to have, but happier not thinking other people think it important.
posted by praemunire at 7:40 AM on May 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


The 'Trending Topics' is what finally made me install Facebook Purity. Mine was always filled with the worst tabloid stories including details of horrible murders.

(To fend off the inevitable question. I *have* to check Facebook at least semi-regularly. It is the only way my mom will communicate with me now.)
posted by vacapinta at 7:41 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


The stuff I mainly see in "Trending News" is stuff like "Celebrity wore a dress" or "Singer bought some ice cream". Seriously, right now the highest one is "Harry Styles tried out the face swap app".
posted by cilantro at 7:46 AM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


I determinedly hide all sports and celebrity-related "news" from my feed, which has seemed to have a good effect on what appears in the trending list. I mostly get real news now, and sometimes I'll see my first mention of something important in the list.
posted by orange swan at 7:46 AM on May 9, 2016


"this will only serve to further fuel the martyrdom complex so many conservatives already have"

Mostly because, in this case, conservative views do seem to be suppressed, so it's justified. When you're dealing with people who believe you're stacking the proverbial deck against them, and you actually *do* stack the deck against them, how would you expect them to react?
posted by kevinbelt at 7:51 AM on May 9, 2016 [7 favorites]


Mostly because, in this case, conservative views do seem to be suppressed, so it's justified. When you're dealing with people who believe you're stacking the proverbial deck against them, and you actually *do* stack the deck against them, how would you expect them to react?

If it were me, I'd stop and reconsider getting my news from sources that are so appallingly bad at journalism that a giant internet company is choosing to lose money by not showing their stuff because it doesn't want to embarrass itself by proxy.

Of course, such an attitude immediately outs me as being not the kind of person who reads Breitbart, so...
posted by Mayor West at 7:56 AM on May 9, 2016 [22 favorites]


There's conservative, and then there's completely out-of-touch-with-reality reactionary nonsense. They are doing a service by suppressing the propaganda, fictions, and conspiracy theories masquerading as news.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:57 AM on May 9, 2016 [8 favorites]


I don't think anyone interested in news is getting it from Facebook's trending topics.
posted by schroedinger at 8:06 AM on May 9, 2016 [10 favorites]


I think this does deserve scrutiny. FB and Twitter are by ways of being public utilities, fora for the masses. Electronic speakers corners, if you will. I prefer my information of whatever sort mediated.

I also think there is value in knowing what things our fellow citizens are causing to trend, whether you agree with them or not. Perhaps especially if you do not.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:11 AM on May 9, 2016 [5 favorites]


If the algorithms had a bias against "bad news" like black men getting shot, I wouldn't be surprised at all. It seems like a reasonable heuristic until it turns into suppression of major news.

There's usually at least one shooting in my trending topics during the summer months (occasionally it's all three). It's possible they're keeping the shootings out, but my guess is that they're really only showing it to certain people based on location, friends of friends, ect.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:12 AM on May 9, 2016


So this is just one more example, like anybody needed one, of conservatives assuming major media ignores their point of view because said media is liberal, instead of simply corporate.

The sad part is that it's not like the rest of American doesn't buy their viewpoints because they simply haven't been exposed to them. Trust me, we know what conservatives are thinking. It's hard to avoid. It's like that Michael Bay Benghazi movie where conservatives were all excited because if we only knew the truth about Benghazi, then we'd finally get what they'd been going on about for like a year and a half, and we'd all join them and run Hillary Clinton out of town on a rail or something. And then the movie just kind of went thud. No great light bulb going off over moderate and liberal America, no mob with pitchforks.

It's not that we don't know what you're arguing, guys. We just don't necessarily buy it.
posted by Naberius at 8:13 AM on May 9, 2016 [15 favorites]


I'm no fan of "conservative" news, particularly in terms of Alt-Right publications like Breitbart, Newsmax, etc. That said, if a person is choosing to post and live in that world, it's not Facebook's job to be filtering that out. It's a potential chilling effect on speech, even if it's speech we don't agree with. If a user has the ability to mute this crap from their feed (and they do, either by unfollowing the toxic shits sharing it, muting the news source, or using third-party tools to filter those posts out), then that's fine. I don't trust an algorithm to decide what I should see. I trust humans to curate and make their own decisions.

Moderation—human moderation—is essential to keeping discourse from becoming toxic. A blanket algorithmic ban on "conservative" news prevents discourse at all.
posted by SansPoint at 8:13 AM on May 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


"There's conservative, and then there's completely out-of-touch-with-reality reactionary nonsense. They are doing a service by suppressing the propaganda, fictions, and conspiracy theories masquerading as news."

Trust me, few people know that better than I do. But my point is that when you're dealing with people who believe in conspiracy theories, actually conspiring against them is counterproductive, as it will only reinforce their behavior.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:14 AM on May 9, 2016


Meanwhile Facebook is sponsoring the Republican convention -- and so I'm finally leaving the site.
posted by antinomia at 8:16 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


One of my current Facebook trending topics is "Brownsea Island, England: Study Researches Effect of Leprosy on Red Squirrel Population." I'm totally in favor of such research, and I might even want to read an article about it, but I am a tad suspicious of the algorithm that identified that as a top news story!

But yeah, I really, really don't want crappy conservative pseudo-news being fed to me by Facebook. The current trending news stories are weird, which I can put up with. I would be annoyed if they started feeding me stuff that was dishonest and offensive.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:17 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


My pedantry for the day is I thought "chilling effect" was for cases where someone is worried they could be punished for their speech. Not merely that their speech will fail to "trend."
posted by RobotHero at 8:24 AM on May 9, 2016 [16 favorites]


Did anyone actually consider Facebook to be some sort of journalistic organization and bound by whatever is left of the professional ethics of journalism?
posted by thelonius at 8:29 AM on May 9, 2016 [10 favorites]


Meanwhile Facebook is sponsoring the Republican convention -- and so I'm finally leaving the site.

I see this as a straight-up marketing move. *SOMEONE* is going to have their logos on the wall, so it might as well be them... And it'll drive traffic.. From the POV of "Sitting around a conference table" there's like no downside.
posted by mikelieman at 8:29 AM on May 9, 2016


Did anyone actually consider Facebook to be some sort of journalistic organization and bound by whatever is left of the professional ethics of journalism?

I don't even expect professional ethics from so-called-actual journalistic organizations. Hearst-owned Times Union regularly reprints best-of lists recycled from REDDIT!
posted by mikelieman at 8:30 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


The revelations undermine any presumption of Facebook as a neutral pipeline for news

The new objectivity is the same as the old objectivity.
posted by ethansr at 8:31 AM on May 9, 2016


that's a good idea for a CNN crawl: what are redditors saying?
posted by thelonius at 8:32 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


thelonius Nothing worthwhile, much like anything else on a CNN crawl
posted by SansPoint at 8:36 AM on May 9, 2016


when you're dealing with people who believe in conspiracy theories, actually conspiring against them is counterproductive

Okay, I hear you, but I don't think a decision not to promote headlines like "Definitive Proof of Planned Parenthood Babyparts PROFITS" is conspiring against anyone. If conservative "news" is actual news, we'll hear about it. If it's dredging up topics that have already been thoroughly debunked, that's like the opposite of conspiring.
posted by witchen at 8:37 AM on May 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure why it's a surprise that a site that regularly trends upward articles about Kanye and Kim Kardashian's latest escapades, the latest crop circle of the unpronounceable symbol that was once Prince's name, and the burning question of why Louis CK quit the internet, is not entirely "objective."
posted by blucevalo at 8:37 AM on May 9, 2016


Right now my top three stories:
Justin Bieber Shares Meaning Behind New Cross Tattoo On Face
Chris Hemsworth Posts Picture of Birthday Cake He Made For His Daughter On Instagram
Earthquake Swarm Detected Under Mount Saint Helen's

And it's like, that's super cool. I've glad that I'm getting the right ratio of things that I might find slightly interesting and things about people that are totally and utterly meaningless.
posted by Neronomius at 8:41 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


The 'Trending Topics' is what finally made me install Facebook Purity. Mine was always filled with the worst tabloid stories including details of horrible murders.

Me too -- it was a bizarre combination of celebrity fluff and stories about kids and animals dying in horrible ways, either by murder or grotesque accident. The only reason I could find for why FB would think I wanted to see this stuff was that many of the stories seemed to happen near places I had lived, and the algorithm was strongly biased towards showing me "local" news.

I'm surprised to learn that this feed is curated by anything other than robots. I always chalked up the whole "news" section to an algorithm gone wrong.
posted by thesmallmachine at 8:42 AM on May 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


undermine any presumption of Facebook as a neutral pipeline for news

I don't think anyone ever really thought that.
posted by Theta States at 8:49 AM on May 9, 2016


Isn't there like, some research that points to a lot of folks are getting their news from Facebook?
posted by FJT at 8:56 AM on May 9, 2016


The "decision not to promote headlines like 'Definitive Proof of Planned Parenthood Babyparts PROFITS'" is only part of the problem (and, side note, the OP article makes it sound like they're talking about more legit stories, not just PP babyparts stuff). The problem is when you do that AND at the same time say you're being objective. That combination makes it look like there's a backroom conspiracy, especially to people who are prone to seeing backroom conspiracies already. If you had a friend with severe social anxiety, and you talked about him behind his back with some other friends, and the anxious friend somehow found out, don't you think that would reinforce your friend's anxiety?
posted by kevinbelt at 8:59 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


The "all media is like this" or "yeah but Facebook's not real news" or "who would rely on this anyway" are valid points, but just consider if the shoe were on the other foot.
posted by resurrexit at 8:59 AM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


I miss the days when Facebook was just for creepily stalking cute girls from your college classes.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:02 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Do we know that the shoe isn't also on the other foot? Are they posting a lot of stories from left-wing news sites? Because mine always seem to be some combination of random celebrity news/ some terrible thing that has happened in or near my home town/ oddball scientific studies.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:06 AM on May 9, 2016 [8 favorites]


Yeah, since they're sponsoring both the Democratic and the Republican conventions it sounds like they might equal opportunity chilling effecters.
posted by chavenet at 9:08 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Whereabouts on the page is the trending news section anyway? Is it something I'd have to opt into?
posted by Artw at 9:17 AM on May 9, 2016


Ah. There it is.

Gosh, that really is worth all this fuss.
posted by Artw at 9:19 AM on May 9, 2016


It's on the upper right. It says "trending."
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:19 AM on May 9, 2016


I think it's conditional or something as the first time I looked in that spot I saw a bunch of "recommendations" for mobile apps.
posted by Artw at 9:24 AM on May 9, 2016


Cool; I got the earthquake swarm under Mt. St. Helens, too! * fistbump Neronomius *
posted by yhbc at 9:28 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Right now the news box on my FB Feed has a story about an interview with Justin Bieber's tattoo artist.

I do not rely on FB for actual news and am surprised that anyone would actually see it as a good source.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:29 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I do not rely on FB for actual news and am surprised that anyone would actually see it as a good source.

On both left and right I have seen complaints that [x subject] is not being covered by the "mainstream news" when I literally just saw an article on the NYT website. I can only conclude that there is a not-insignificant portion of the population for whom "whatever feed is spooning crap into my eyes" constitutes "mainstream news."
posted by praemunire at 9:31 AM on May 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


TBQH, there really is little real honest-to-God news to be found anywhere these days. It's almost like TPTB benefit from keeping people ignorant and distracted.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:34 AM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Mostly sounds like they didn't want it to be an unending stream of racist dad-spam, for which I can hardly blame them.
posted by tavella at 9:35 AM on May 9, 2016 [9 favorites]


That Mount St. Helens one has been "trending" for me for days now. I don't even live near there. How are smaller, local tectonic events supposed to get any mindshare when Facebook is so deep in the pockets of Big Volcano
posted by oulipian at 9:44 AM on May 9, 2016 [18 favorites]


However if any of this can somehow contribute to the downfall of the crappy "moments" tab on Twitter then I am all for it.
posted by Artw at 9:45 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


> I prefer my information of whatever sort mediated.

Sorry, un-mediated.

(Monday, Monday....)
posted by IndigoJones at 9:50 AM on May 9, 2016


Definitely of two minds on this. Definitely believe that a lot of conservative news is entirely unmoored from objective reality and as such, doesn't deserve to be handled as news at all. But definitely, they should be allowed to glue their posters (and post their outraged listicles, etc) just like everyone else.
posted by newdaddy at 10:00 AM on May 9, 2016


This is nowhere near the worst thing that Facebook has ever done, and I'm admittedly torn about it. But if the “trending stories” section is being touted as an algorithmic thing — and lord knows it is — then it’s a misrepresentation for Facebook to exercise curation of that content without disclosing it.

If they’d been open about that from the start, nobody would have cause to complain. But now Breitbart and other such outlets are going to become even more insufferable. Every time someone’s persecution complex invents a new “MSM is liberal” conspiracy theory, it’ll be more plausible right off the bat because they were right about the Facebook thing that one time.

I realize that a lot of the far-right media report things that are either heavily misleading or flat-out untrue, but I’d be surprised if the “trending stories” section had never featured other non-political stories that were just as misleading. If that was the standard they were following, there would’ve been no reason not to disclose it from the beginning. A curation policy without clear guidelines might as well be operating on whimsy or other arbitrary factors, and I don’t relish it just because it happens to be inconveniencing my political enemies at the moment.
posted by savetheclocktower at 10:01 AM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


Conservative white guy claims liberal conspiracy -- this is obviously going to turn out to be bullshit.
posted by humanfont at 10:08 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I get lazy about reading news sites sometimes, so that's when I actually glance at my FB trending news. But because I know FB actually takes note of what you don't wanna see, I actively click the little X and tell them "I don't care about this." I do this often enough, I guess, that my current top 5 are:

Transit of Mercury: Planet Crosses Between Sun and Earth Monday
Pat McCrory: North Carolina Governor Sues US Department of Justice Over State's House Bill 2
Fort McMurray, Alberta: Wildfire 'May Be Turning a Corner' as Weather Conditions Improve, Officials Say
Uber and Lyft: Companies Set to Leave Austin, Texas, After Voters Support City Regulation of Services
Sadiq Khan: Labour Member of Parliament Sworn In as Mayor of London

Which fits right in with what I actually would read.
(I think it's also making my worldview of news sort of pessimistic)
posted by numaner at 10:16 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


my 6th is also the earthquake swarm below Mount St. Helens.
* fistbump Neronomius and yhbc *
posted by numaner at 10:18 AM on May 9, 2016


I don't know if this deadly swarm of mountain bees is actually causing the earthquakes or merely being exacerbated by them, but either way I'm terrified.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:29 AM on May 9, 2016


Uh... that has not been my experience? If I click on the "trending stories", if they're somewhat political, over half the shit that pops up tends to be from garbage right-wing sites?

(Breitbart, PJ Media, and so on)
posted by qcubed at 10:33 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


If your immediate and only response to this story is herp derp conservative 'news' isn't news anyway, fuck those racists then (1) you're an asshole and a liability to your tribe and (2) please just take the five seconds necessary to switch 'conservative' and 'liberal' (or 'progressive') in your head while reading this comments and see how long your self-righteous disgust at your fellow man lasts.

This may not be a huge deal, but then none of the thousand cuts is a big deal by itself. That's the whole point of that saying. While I think excluding Brietbart from a 'news' section makes sense, we'd damn well better be careful whose hands we put that decision-making power into. You want to trust a bunch of early-20s Ivy Leaguers with deciding what news your grandma and your coworkers see on their Facebook page? Seriously?

(I have a Facebook account but don't use it, BTW.)
posted by waxbanks at 10:33 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


You want to trust a bunch of early-20s Ivy Leaguers with deciding what news your grandma and your coworkers see on their Facebook page? Seriously?

If it means that I won't get a bunch of shitty "FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: Trans Predators Want to Enter Bathrooms" bullshit... maybe?
posted by qcubed at 10:34 AM on May 9, 2016 [18 favorites]


The internet is an indiscriminate amplifier of the worst tendencies in society. The only way to reduce that noisy amplification is by applying filters. Refusing to filter is that same as actively promoting garbage.
posted by JackFlash at 10:35 AM on May 9, 2016 [14 favorites]


"The stuff I mainly see in "Trending News" is stuff like "Celebrity wore a dress" or "Singer bought some ice cream". Seriously, right now the highest one is "Harry Styles tried out the face swap app"."

Yeah, my Trending News is almost entirely "celebrity stories mentioned on Good Morning America this morning." I consider it my go-to source for low-quality celebrity news! (I read actual websites for high-quality celebrity news I'm actually interested in.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:40 AM on May 9, 2016


Certainly folks on the right conflate corporate news with liberal news...

But I certainly can understand given how FB has done research to determine what impact on public opinion filtering peoples news will have would make folks think that they are using this information to further their own agenda.

And they may be. Breitbart is certainly absurd and stupid, but so is "New Captain America Movie is Ayn Rand Libertarian Propaganda!" headlines from Salon (I'm only slightly paraphrasing, oh FFS Salon, what the hell happened to you?).

Given that FB doesn't purport to be a journalistic enterprise and they pretend they are not trying to influence public opinion, it should be upsetting when there is an attempt by them to filter out certain news sources.

Again, the right conflates corporate news with liberal news, but it still is all problematic. None of us are happy if FB is silencing BLM activism (or other kinds of activism, for that matter). Ironically, Breitbart headline is reading that they 'amplify' BLM right now (thanks metafilter, for making me visit their site, yeah, you MADE me).

At the very least, they need to be more forthcoming about how they pick their news sources, how they determine something is 'trending'. Because right now it seems they are actively deceiving the public (yeah, no one cares about that marathon unless you care about marathons, which is a tiny minority) about how they pick which news people see.

It's one thing when we all tend to live in a bubble of news that we create (which has its issues), but when that bubble is being created by FB who claims they are just telling you what people are reading, it becomes problematic.

If FB wants to become a curated news source, they should be forthcoming about what they are doing. If FB feels their trending algorithms are crap (which is apparently their motivations for having a team or reporters cull through stories), they should get an army of developers to improve this.

Look, maybe if the 'trending' were honest, it would show that FB was a cesspool of right-wing echo-chambers (I suspect this might have been what prompted them to curate the news in the first place), but what they were doing seems fundamentally dishonest. And when you couple that with the fact that they *know* that they influence public opinion it all becomes very troubling.

Disclaimer: I don't have a facebook account.
posted by el io at 10:44 AM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


If your immediate and only response to this story is herp derp conservative 'news' isn't news anyway, fuck those racists then (1) you're an asshole and a liability to your tribe and (2) please just take the five seconds necessary to switch 'conservative' and 'liberal' (or 'progressive') in your head while reading this comments and see how long your self-righteous disgust at your fellow man lasts.

Obviously unless infowars.com is allowed on the trending page, our democracy is a sham.

You want to trust a bunch of early-20s Ivy Leaguers with deciding what news your grandma and your coworkers see on their Facebook page? Seriously?

As opposed to 40-50 year old Ivy Leaguers deciding what news grandma and my coworkers see on their television?
posted by entropicamericana at 10:51 AM on May 9, 2016 [14 favorites]


For those of you who proudly don't use Facebook but are still commenting on it, "trending" is a tiny box that shows up on the computer web browser versions of Facebook, but not on mobile. Nobody looks at it or cares about it because it's just garbage taking up space on the page.

It's not like Facebook is keeping you from seeing when your asshole friends and relatives link to Breitbart. I know, because it's not keeping me from seeing when my asshole friends and relatives link to Breitbart. It's just that if you want to read a "trending" story, like the one about Justin Bieber's tattoo, you have to read it on CNN, not Breitbart.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:54 AM on May 9, 2016 [12 favorites]


Yeah, I think I only notice it because the stories I get are so very random. It's not nearly as prominent as the things that my friends post or like. It's also not as prominent as the random promoted things that show up on my timeline. (And those are also extremely random. Facebook has a really odd algorithm for promoted posts.) I don't even really understand what the point of the little trending box is.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:04 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


> As opposed to 40-50 year old Ivy Leaguers deciding what news grandma and my coworkers see on their television?

First of all: the curation that Facebook applies isn't “opposed” to MSM curation; it's in addition to MSM curation. Secondly:

Implicit in the concept of mass media is the idea that your news is curated at the source. Newspapers and TV networks decide what to report on based on a combination of (a) what they think people want to know about, (b) what they think it's important for people to know about, (c) how easy or hard it is to report the thing, (d) how easy it is to fact-check, and (e) unconscious bias. (This is part of the reason why accusations of “liberal bias” in media are both technically correct and completely missing the point.)

The Ivy Leaguers who decide what your grandma sees on her television are journalists, and the fact that journalism strives for neutrality (as flawed a concept as that is) means that they'll be a bit more self-aware and more willing to hold themselves to external standards. These norms do not exist in the software community. Not only did the twenty-something Ivy Leaguers apparently not consider the implications of what they were doing, they also didn't feel the need to disclose that there was any human curation going on at all, and even represented their trending algorithms as neutral and unbiased.
posted by savetheclocktower at 11:20 AM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


You want to trust a bunch of early-20s Ivy Leaguers with deciding what news your grandma and your coworkers see on their Facebook page? Seriously?

As opposed to 40-50 year old Ivy Leaguers deciding what news grandma and my coworkers see on their television?


Bingo. Whoever thinks that this is some anomaly needs to wake the hell up. All other mainstream media outlets are similarly filtering and promoting content to further their corporate/political agendas. The news is not what is happening. It's what they want you to know is happening.
posted by bologna on wry at 11:20 AM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure why opposition to Facebook secretly curating their news feeds is being positioned as "the other side of the debate" from opposition to how television news gets created. One can be disturbed by both! I certainly am.

The questions of how we verify information and allot attention to it are age old. As far as I know no one has ever come up with a satisfactory answer. That shouldn't stop us from pushing wildly influential platforms (such as Facebook, and network news) to do better, and doing better has to start with transparency about how these decisions get made.
posted by galaxy rise at 11:54 AM on May 9, 2016


Newspapers and TV networks decide what to report on based on a combination of (a) what they think people want to know about, (b) what they think it's important for people to know about, (c) how easy or hard it is to report the thing, (d) how easy it is to fact-check, and (e) unconscious bias. (This is part of the reason why accusations of “liberal bias” in media are both technically correct and completely missing the point.)

The Ivy Leaguers who decide what your grandma sees on her television are journalists, and the fact that journalism strives for neutrality (as flawed a concept as that is) means that they'll be a bit more self-aware and more willing to hold themselves to external standards.


Holy shit, what wonderful alternate reality did you just breeze in from? How can I get there? Is Kurt Cobain still alive?
posted by entropicamericana at 12:02 PM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


That box never contains "news" that I haven't already heard, and rarely contains much besides Celebrity stuff. It's FaceBook, what were people expecting -- a raw Reuters feed?
posted by wenestvedt at 12:04 PM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


"mine always seem to be some combination of random celebrity news/ some terrible thing that has happened in or near my home town/"

Funny, that's what CNN.com keeps showing.
posted by doctornemo at 12:48 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


"The only way to reduce that noisy amplification is by applying filters. "
RSS feed reading is a good way to do this.
So are Twitter lists.
posted by doctornemo at 12:53 PM on May 9, 2016


This is why I stick to Yahoo! News.
posted by benzenedream at 2:27 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]




Breaking: Facebook editorializes, editorialized news at 11.

Glenn Greenwald pitched a small twitter fit which I found surprising given he works for a newspaper.
posted by simra at 3:01 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Here's a related question. A lot of Facebook headlines are phrased as "So and so reportedly / allegedly does so and so." Do they have to put in the reportedly / allegedly language so as to avoid being sued for libel?
posted by codacorolla at 4:24 PM on May 9, 2016




For me the real underlying story here is that ALL of the content on the web is increasingly being siloed and filtered through stuff outside of the content creators' control. That's where all the money is being made - and the older model of the web is dying out right before our eyes. We're trusting Google and Facebook with the vast majority of what our information is, and how our information gets distributed to us. We've even seen it happen to this very site. What is it going to take for people to be concerned?
posted by naju at 5:12 PM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


The funny thing is that Facebook hired a bunch of journalists, made then sign NDAs, and expected that was enough to prevent this story from getting out. FFS, they're journalists!
posted by cman at 5:29 PM on May 9, 2016


My pedantry for the day is I thought "chilling effect" was for cases where someone is worried they could be punished for their speech. Not merely that their speech will fail to "trend."

Yeah, that quote from the source in the article stood out to me as well. I thought maybe they were going to go on to say that they and their colleagues were reprimanded for letting certain kinds of news through, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
posted by Pryde at 5:41 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone interested in news is getting it from Facebook's trending topics.

But people who aren't interested in news are, which is the problem. This is pretty minor example of an underlying issue that isn't minor at all.
posted by atoxyl at 6:13 PM on May 9, 2016


How Facebook decides what's trending

Update: This story was based on a conversation we had in August with Facebook about how its trending feature works. A Gizmodo story published in May reports that human editors have suppressed certain conservative news stories and publications. Facebook denied that in a statement Monday.

"There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality," a spokesperson said. "These guidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives. Nor do they permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another. These guidelines do not prohibit any news outlet from appearing in Trending Topics."

Gizmodo also reported that editors were "instructed to artificially ‘inject' selected stories into the trending news module.’ We were told that humans do not choose trending topics, and Facebook has not responded to our questions asking for clarification.

This could mean a number of things: Facebook’s guidelines have changed since this story was published; Gizmodo’s story is inaccurate; the human editors were acting outside management's guideline; or Facebook gave us inaccurate information. We will update if we get an answer.

posted by Artw at 6:17 PM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


While I think excluding Brietbart from a 'news' section makes sense, we'd damn well better be careful whose hands we put that decision-making power into. You want to trust a bunch of early-20s Ivy Leaguers with deciding what news your grandma and your coworkers see on their Facebook page? Seriously?

Someone controls it, whether its stereotypical ivy leaguers or guys pitching "big data" algorithms. There is simply no universe in which getting news from Facebook (or really any other site) is some magically impartial survey of the world.

I'm actually a bit reassured that humans reading news and bouncing things up is still going on. Although reassurance is trivial by the overwhelming fact that people who don't do much more than consume a Facebook feed (or NPR or their own curated RSS feed or whatever other single source) can't expect too much anyway. Worrying in that case about the damage caused by the idea that there are editors seems misplaced.
posted by mark k at 6:55 PM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


OK, after re-reading the story and then the Recode piece ArtW links to:

- I still think the main story is a nothingburger.
- The core complaint ("They'll only link to Breitbart if it's a hot topic that a more mainstream site has already covered") actually describes an algorithm, whether human- or computer- executed.
- I also note that they are reported to have fewer human interventions as the computer algorithms improve.
- Obviously decisions like this rule are *not* neutral, whether humans intervene by editing the feed or intervene by tuning the algorithm.
- OTOH Newsmax and especially Breitbart exist to manipulate the news cycle for political gain and profit. Neutrality does not consist of going along with it.
- GIzmodo seems to spin this pretty hard to make it sound bad. The behavior is not "in stark contrast" to Facebook's vague description of what they do.
- OTOH the story in Recode makes it looks like Facebook, or some self-promoting group there, wants you to interpret it as all computer based.
posted by mark k at 10:45 PM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Once a topic is identified as trending, it’s approved by an actual human being, who also writes a short description for the story. These people don’t get to pick what Facebook adds to the trending section. That’s done automatically by the algorithm. They just get to pick the headline

It's a bit contradictory really. What does "approved" mean, if it doesn't include the possibility of something being not approved? Which pretty much sounds like what is happening.
posted by Artw at 11:01 PM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Thanks everyone for the FB Purity tip. At home I had css'd a lot of the cruft away, but this makes it quite straight-forward.
posted by mikelieman at 3:47 AM on May 10, 2016






From Artw's link: I spent my childhood listening to conservative talk radio in my dad's car; I am not sure what would become of those programs if they didn't have the biased liberal media to complain about.

Exactly. It's been ever thus.
posted by GuyZero at 11:54 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


“Who Said Facebook Had to Be a Neutral Platform?” Charles P. Pierce , Esquire Politics Blog, 10 May 2016
posted by ob1quixote at 1:07 PM on May 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


Probably people who share a lot of the above mentioned Brietbart articles, who seem most predisposed in mindset to see the trending list as some kind of scorecard and get offended if their efforts to push stuff on to it are thwarted.
posted by Artw at 2:22 PM on May 10, 2016


So apparently the GOP senators want to bring back the fairness doctrine and apply it to the Internet?
posted by TedW at 2:44 PM on May 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yes, because small government, duh.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:51 PM on May 10, 2016


also from that Verge link ala Artw:
12. To be more clear: it's pretty weird to complain about human curators maybe not posting links to conservative stories in a garbage nothing box when at the same time Donald Trump says crazy racist shit and Facebook's algorithm serves it up to an eager audience of millions instantly.

Exactly. It's a garbage nothing box that's literally my last defense against productivity, and even then I self-curate it. So the biggest worry should be what is said in another point:
5. Of course, algorithms aren't neutral, which is the real issue. Facebook is a powerful media gatekeeper because of the artificial scarcity of the News Feed — unlike, Twitter, which blasts users with a firehose of content, Facebook's News Feed algorithm controls what you see from all the people and organizations you follow. And changes to the News Feed algorithm divert enormous amounts of attention: last year Facebook was sending massive amounts of traffic to websites, but earlier this year Facebook prioritized video and that traffic dipped sharply. This month Facebook is prioritizing live video, so the media started making live videos. When media people want to complain, they complain about having to chase Facebook, because it feels like Facebook has a ton of control over the media. (Disclosure: Facebook is paying Verge parent company Vox Media to create Facebook Live videos.)

I try to spend less and less time on FB, and I actively tell my friends to go view videos at their source, rather than whatever poor excuse of video repost on FB they're watching. (and ooooh this really burns my beans: when you click on a FB video to pause it and it takes you TO A DIFFERENT SCREEN WITH MORE VIDEO CONTROLS WHILE THE DAMN THING KEEPS PLAYING, and you have to figure out how to escape out of that for the damn video to stop playing! holy shit whoever designed that should be shot.) FB might have 99 problems, but a curated trending news box only visible on the desktop ain't one.
posted by numaner at 2:53 PM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


It may be just because I'm noticing it today because of this story, but I suspect they are now over-compensating. The trending stories I see now are something about Duck Dynasty Dude and bathrooms, some BS anti-immigration study, some probably BS story about Hilary Clinton's emails, two celebrity stories (including that Bieber fellow) and two stories about Donald Trump (somebody supporting him and another report saying he's less popular than Nickelback which is of course, hilarious!)
posted by TwoWordReview at 3:32 PM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


I mean, as far as I'm aware, Nickelback have never gone bankrupt. So they're not only more popular than Trump, they're better businesspeople as well.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:32 PM on May 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


So apparently the GOP senators want to bring back the fairness doctrine and apply it to the Internet?

Steve Benen: The wrong Republican to pick a fight with Facebook
Indeed, since when does the Senate care about media companies that may or may not have political preferences? John Thune says he’s concerned about Facebook’s “culture” and the integrity of its mission statement, but again, how in the world is that any of his business? Isn’t the Republican model based on the idea that the free market should decide and if online consumers don’t like Facebook’s “culture,” we can take our clicks elsewhere?

But even more striking still is Thune’s uniquely weak position. When the South Dakota Republican became Congress’ leading opponent of net neutrality, Thune made the case that any political interference in how the Internet operates is inherently unacceptable.

Worse, in 2007, Thune railed against the “Fairness Doctrine,” arguing at the time, “I know the hair stands up on the back of my neck when I hear government officials offering to regulate the news media and talk radio to ensure fairness. I think most Americans have the same reaction.”

He added, “Giving power to a few to regulate fairness in the media is a recipe for disaster on the scale that George Orwell so aptly envisioned.”

And yet, here we are, watching the exact same senator use his office to demand answers from a media company accused of being insufficiently “fair” towards conservative content.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:08 AM on May 11, 2016 [3 favorites]








A former contractor says that while the social media company did not impose political bias upon news ‘curators’, she and other employees were subject to poor management, intimidation and sexism that left them feeling voiceless
uhhh she misspelt Anti-Conservative Bias.
posted by Theta States at 6:44 AM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


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