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article imageFacebook opens up about human influence on Trending Topics

By Michael Thomas     May 10, 2016 in Internet
Facebook's vice president of search explained in a post today how a combination of Facebook's algorithm and dedicated editors determine what goes in its Trending Topic box.
The post came from Facebook's Tom Stocky, who responded to a report in Gizmodo yesterday that claimed Facebook's news editors were routinely told to suppress conservative news.
Beginning his post by denying that conservative news stories were suppressed, he explained that Facebook has a number of guidelines in place that prevent editors from suppressing topics because of a political viewpoint, nor are editors allowed to promote one viewpoint over others. Facebook also doesn't prevent any news outlet from appearing the Trending box.
Trending topics are first suggested by Facebook's algorithm and then passed on to Facebook's editors to verify their authenticity. If it's a hoax, duplication, "junk topic" or has insufficient sources, it may be disregarded.
While this prevents fake news stories from catching on worldwide, the Verge points out, it also shows that Facebook's algorithm still needs human help to be relevant to users.
Stocky's post also denied anonymous allegations that Facebook artificially inflated the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag to make it spread more quickly. Editors are not allowed to inflate topics, but can combine related hashtags to make a story more relevant — he gave the example of folding #MayTheFourthBeWithYou into #StarWars.
Regardless of Stocky's claims, the Senate GOP has launched an inquiry into Facebook's news curation. It sent a letter to Facebook asking it to answer a number of questions about the way Facebook's feed works. It asks who is responsible for approving topics, if the team manipulated content and what steps Facebook took to investigate allegations of suppressing conservative news stories, among other concerns.
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