It has been more than three months since Gizmodo first published a story claiming Facebook's human editors were suppressing conservative news content on the site's Trending Topics section. Facebook vehemently denied the report, but has been dealing with the story's aftermath ever since.
On Friday, Facebook announced another small but notable change to Trending Topics: Human editors will no longer write the short story descriptions that accompany a trending topic on the site. Instead, Facebook is going to use algorithms to "pull excerpts directly from stories."
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It is not, however, cutting out humans entirely. In fact, Facebook employees will still select which stories ultimately make it into the trending section. An algorithm will surface popular stories, but Facebook editors will weed out the inappropriate or fake ones. "There are still people involved in this process to ensure that the topics that appear in Trending remain high-quality," the company's blog reads.
Facebook says automating story descriptions will help it expand Trending Topics to more countries and languages. But that wasn't the catalyst here. "This is something we always planned to do but we are making these changes sooner given the feedback we got from the Facebook community earlier this year," the post reads.
That's as close as you'll get to Facebook attributing this change to Gizmodo's report.
At the heart of all this drama is the fact that consumer companies like Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat are all walking a fine line between being a neutral platform to host news, and a subjective media company that creates it.
Facebook and Twitter, for example, both use algorithms to surface some user posts, but suppress others. Those algorithms are human-generated, and thus inherently biased. Snapchat and Twitter are using human editors to create event recaps, including summaries of breaking news events.
So humans impact what you do and do not see on these services, and the challenge, especially for Facebook, is making it clear how involved these humans actually are. Hence Friday's update.
—By KURT WAGNER, Recode.net.
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