Facebook Shares Trending Guidelines, Amid Reports of Bias

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2016-05-13 Print this article Print

"About 40 percent of the topics in the queue get rejected by the reviewers because they reflect what is considered 'noise' … For example, braised, DVD, #weekend and #sale are all topics that were not accepted as trends over the past week. This tool is not used to suppress or remove articles or topics from a particular perspective," he continued.

That Facebook should find itself showing, as a New York Times Headline explained, "How Editors and Algorithms Guide News" suggests a societal learning curve under way, regarding the reality of an increasingly common balancing act between human input and algorithms, as data science becomes an ever-greater fact of life.

Last year, after the introduction of its digital assistant, M, Facebook made headlines over whether M was entirely machine-driven or if humans were also at work. (It was indeed the latter.)

"I think that the general perception is that the output of algorithms and analytics is informed by human judgment in its design, but also that it would be crazy to act on that output without the further exercise of human judgment," Ezra Gottheil, a principal analyst with Technology Business Research, told eWEEK.

"Trending topics" does sound like something automatic—a "mere counting of occurrences," said Gottheil.

"Upon consideration, however, one would realize that Facebook is in the business of keeping people engaged, and that highly controversial topics may not serve its purpose," he continued. "The Facebook page is Facebook's product; not to inspect it before it ships would be business malpractice. Microsoft would have been less embarrassed if it had subjected its Tay bot to adult supervision."

Is it possible some people were exercising their biases? Sure.

"The examples given, however, seem reasonable to me. For some people, the ones complaining about the ostensible bias, the Drudge Report is mainstream and The New York Times is fringe. I think the majority of users would think otherwise."


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