Feedback
Tech

Gaffes Ensue as Facebook Takes Humanity Out of ‘Trending Topics’

Facebook's "trending topics," which faced allegations of political bias earlier this year, now requires little-to-no human input, with the company having fired editors who oversaw the feature.

But the rise of the machines — well, algorithms — has caused trending topics to veer off course, highlighting a false news story and various other mix-ups.

A false story about Fox News Channel anchor Megyn Kelly being kicked out of her position for being a "traitor" and "backing Hillary" stayed up for several hours.

Image: A man is silhouetted against a video screen with an Facebook logo as he poses with an Samsung S4 smartphone in this photo illustration taken in the central Bosnian town of Zenica
A man is silhouetted against a video screen with an Facebook logo as he poses with a smartphone in this photo illustration. DADO RUVIC / Reuters file

And when users hovered over Rob Lowe's name after his Comedy Central roast, they instead saw a headline referring to a comedian calling Ann Coulter a "racist c--t," according to The Guardian.

All of this comes as Facebook announced last Friday it would use "a more algorithmically driven process" which would allow it to roll out trending on a larger scale.

Previously, an editorial team, which has since reportedly been fired, would draft topic summaries and descriptions. With the algorithm taking over, Facebook no longer shows summaries.

The trending topics team has a new focus on technical operations, ensuring the algorithm does its job.

In the case of the Kelly story, a person familiar with the matter told NBC News the topic had been accepted over the weekend and met the review guidelines since there were a sufficient number of posts and shares on Facebook.

A review process later found the story about Kelly was inaccurate and removed it from trending topics. The person added that Facebook is working to make sure it can better detect hoaxes and satirical stories.

The Facebook Trending module at 2:00 pm EDT on Aug. 30. Facebook

Tucked in the upper right corner of Facebook's News Feed for desktop users, trending topics were the center of attention earlier this year after they section was hit with allegations of political bias.

Related: Facebook Changes Policies on 'Trending Topics' After Criticism

A report from tech website Gizmodo cited an anonymous source who said the social network's "news curators" were instructed to artificially "inject" selected stories into trending topics, raising allegations of bias.

Amid the fallout, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosted leading conservatives at Facebook's campus in May to discuss ensuring Facebook remains a platform that is open to everyone, regardless of background or beliefs.

In May, the company announced its investigation found "no evidence of systematic political bias in the selection or prominence of stories" curated by its trending topics section. However, Facebook said it would enact several reforms, including more training, transparency and working with a larger list of news outlets to nominate trending topics.