Fri, Jan 27, 2017 - Page 12 News List

Facebook tweaks trending feature to curb fake news

AP, SAN FRANCISCO

Facebook Inc is updating its “trending” feature that highlights hot topics on its social, part of its efforts to root out the kind of fake news stories that critics say helped elect US President Donald Trump.

With the changes announced on Wednesday, Facebook’s trending list is to consist of topics covered by several publishers. Before, it focused on subjects drawing the biggest numbers of people sharing or commenting on posts.

The switch is intended to make Facebook a more credible source of information by steering hordes of its 1.8 billion users toward topics that “reflect real world events being covered by multiple outlets,” Will Cathcart, Facebook vice president of product management, said in a blog post.

Facebook is also to stop customizing trending lists to cater to each user’s personal interests. Instead, everyone located in the same region is to see the same trending lists, which appear in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and India.

That change could widen the scope of information Facebook’s users see, instead of just topics that reinforce what they might have already heard or read elsewhere. The broader perspective might reduce the chances of Facebook’s users living in a “filter bubble” — only engaging with people and ideas with which they agree.

Facebook introduced its trending list in 2014 in response to the popularity of a similar feature by rival Twitter Inc.

Questions about Facebook’s influence on what people are reading intensified last year after a technology blog cited an anonymous source as saying that human editors routinely suppressed conservative viewpoints on the site.

Facebook fired the small group of journalists overseeing its trending items and replaced them with an algorithm that was supposed to be a more neutral judge about what to put on the list.

However, the automated approach began to pick out posts that were getting the most attention, even if the information in them was bogus.

Some of the fake news stories targeted US Democratic presidential nominee Hilary Rodham Clinton, prompting critics to say that the falsehoods helped Trump overcome a large deficit in public opinion polls.

To discourage the creation of fake news, Facebook is also banishing perpetual publishers of false information.

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