Facebook Updates Trending News Section A Year After Criticism Of Liberal Bias

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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Facebook announced Wednesday that it is updating its trending news section to show users a diversity of publications, a year after the social media company was criticized for liberal bias.

“Now, when you click on a Trending topic, you’ll see a carousel with stories from other publications about a given topic that you can swipe through,” Ali Ahmadi, product manager, and John Angelo, product designer, wrote in an official blog post. “By making it easier to see what other news outlets are saying about each topic, we hope that people will feel more informed about the news in their region.”

The redesign, though, only alters what stories the feed provides users when they select a trending topic, not what topics are ultimately chosen.

The change likely stems (at least partially) from backlash Facebook received last year when former employees told the tech outlet Gizmodo that they routinely suppressed news more appealing to conservatives. While Facebook denied the accusations and said their staff had a diverse set of opinions, the company later fired the trending news section team, which was comprised of 15 to 18 workers. It replaced the editorial staff with engineers, whose duties include checking that topics and articles the algorithms select are, in their perspective, newsworthy.

The latest update isn’t the first time Facebook has tinkered with the news feed feature. It announced in January that it would incorporate two new components, including “new signals to better identify and rank authentic content” and “a new way to predict and rank in real-time when posts might be more relevant to you.”

In the past year, especially since the 2016 presidential election concluded, Former President Barack Obama and other prominent liberals have pressured the social media site to decipher and purge news stories that are misleading, unsubstantiated or false. But automatically identifying a post as legitimate or fraudulent may be a difficult task for Facebook, since subjectivity seems to be liable to even the most seemingly scientific processes. (RELATED: BuzzFeed’s Infamous Trump Dossier Is Facebook’s Most Read News Story In Past Year)

“The two most discussed concerns this past year were about diversity of viewpoints we see (filter bubbles) and accuracy of information (fake news),” Zuckerberg wrote in February, referring to his actions, both personally and through the business. “I worry about these and we have studied them extensively.”

Rather than aggressively removing stories that are trending, Facebook is instead further curating the news for users but this time in an apparent attempt to be more neutral. (RELATED: BuzzFeed, Vox Are Facebook’s Newest Video Partners, Says Report)

Impartiality could prove to be a difficult or dubious endeavor as the company announced in December that the purported “mythbusting” website Snopes will be one of a few fact-checking organizations allowed to label stories as misleading or false. The Daily Caller could not identify a single Snopes fact-checker who comes from a conservative background, meaning that biases could transpire, whether purposefully or subconsciously.

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Eric Lieberman