Don’t trust your Facebook feed. All Facebook wants is for you to spend time on Facebook, so that they can sell your attention to the highest bidder.
Facebook recently fired 18 employees whose job was to write headlines for and monitor the “Trending Topics” list. When that list fell under scrutiny for an alleged anti-conservative bias, Facebook conducted an internal review, and reported that it found no evidence of such a bias, and now it’s all bots all the time. Except that humans still monitor the list. Except when they obviously don’t, such as when the list recently posted a mismatched URL and title, and when an item about Megyn Kelly trended for hours even though it was false.
I make it a point to check multiple news pages, including sources on the left, the right, and libertarian/tech sites that defy easy categorization. Google News is noteworthy because I can easily sample how dozens or hundreds of different news sources cover a breaking international story. I check the Drudge Report a couple times a day (Drudge was the one who forced the world to recognize the power of online news) and usually wake up listening to the NPR news summary (it occupies my brain during the last few snooze cycles).
Facebook says humans are still involved in the story selection process for Trending Topics, but it’s never been more opaque about what role they play. Before, Facebook had a set of guidelines that instructed human curators how to analyze fast-moving news events, and then contextualize the coverage of those events on regional, national, and international scales. This involved closely watching mainstream sources like The New York Times, CNN, and The Washington Post. These contractors were also instructed to analyze headline styles, sourcing of quotes and facts, and to avoid sensationalism.
The changes instituted on Friday didn’t throw all of that away; Facebook has been slowly stripping away the human element of Trending Topics for months now. Rather, it marked the moment Facebook decided its algorithmic approach was more favorable, or perhaps more cost-effective and less damaging. But in shifting the reins to engineers, the company has minimized the kind of news judgment typically exercised by journalists and editors. Now, just a few days later, we’re realizing just how important that human element was. —The Verge