Facebook Hired Journalists to Train Its Trending Topics Algorithm

Recently I noticed an unusually incendiary phrase in the Facebook “trending” list, and noticed that several people in my feed were reacting strongly to that language. When I clicked the link, I was taken to a page that did not actually contain that phrase. When I searched news.google.com for the source of that phrase, the results came up nil. A few hours later, new searches were turning up bloggers who were angrily reacting to that specific phrase, accusing people on one side of the issue of using it, but without links to actual examples. By that time, the phrasing on Facebook’s Trending Topics list had changed. I remember wondering where that phrase came from.

If you are waiting for me to tell you the phrase, so that you can see whether it confirms or offends your political views, then you are missing the point. As far as I could tell, the first place that phrase appeared was in Facebook’s Trending Topics list, which was hand-crafted by a Facebook employee.

Here is a Gizmodo story about the people who manage the Trending Topics list.

The news curation team writes headlines for each of the topics, along with a three-sentence summary of the news story it’s pegged to, and choose an image or Facebook video to attach to the topic. The news curator also chooses the “most substantive post” to summarize the topic, usually from a news website. The former contractors Gizmodo interviewed said they were asked to write neutral headlines, and encouraged to promote a video only if it had been uploaded to Facebook. They were also told to select articles from a list of preferred media outlets that included sites like the New York Times, Time, Variety, and other traditional outlets. They would regularly avoid sites like World Star Hip Hop, The Blaze, and Breitbart, but were never explicitly told to suppress those outlets. They were also discouraged from mentioning Twitter by name in headlines and summaries, and instead asked to refer to social media in a broader context. —Gizmodo