By Jason McClain | August 24, 2016 | 0 Comment
In recent months, Facebook Trending Topics has faced some controversy in the media in relation to the current political situation and the fact that it is an election year. Apparently someone is paying huge attention to the less-than-obvious links in the Facebook sidebar to the extent of noticing that more liberal news was being disseminated via the channel rather than conservative topics. Needless to say, Facebook Trending Topics exploded into a mega-controversy in the political realm and beyond. Facebook is no stranger to controversy and questions from disgruntled users.
In the wake of that controversy, some former Facebook “news curators” came forward and admitted that they suppressed certain stories including, but not limited to conservative interest stories and stories about Facebook itself even if they were organically trending among users. They also injected unimportant stories that weren’t trending at all into the Facebook Trending Topics feed. The problem here is not that Facebook Trending Topics is curated. The problem is that the feed is supposed to track and present the most popular topics on Facebook organically, and it is displaying a curated and somewhat biased feed instead.
This is just another thing to file under “Don’t Trust Facebook”. They don’t exactly have the most stellar reputation for looking out for user interests. It’s really ironic that the same network so many users don’t trust with their information is the same network where they get the majority of their news. Here’s a novel idea, Facebook, actually show topics that are truly trending among your users. That’s what most people think trending topics are.
Another aspect of this whole thing is the competition between Facebook and Twitter. Each social network works differently and holds a unique place in the social media space. Since its inception, Twitter has dominated breaking news to the point that they are marketing themselves as such. The aforementioned former Facebook curators also admitted to being disciplined if something was trending on Twitter, but not on Facebook. Given the differences between the two networks, the fierce competition seems a bit ridiculous and really sort of greedy of Facebook which is clearly dominating in user numbers. Even Facebook is looking to Twitter for breaking news, huh?
The third link above quotes a couple of direct responses from Facebook regarding the allegations of bias. One of the responses is from Tom Stocky who is the Vice President of Search at Facebook. He says in his response that his department is actually responsible for Facebook Trending Topics. So, what is Facebook doing to fix and/or improve the situation with trending topics? Why testing, of course. The trending topics section underwent some obvious testing shortly after the controversy which involved topics that were obviously pulled from the algorithm rather than being typed. They also toyed with including the number of people talking about a certain topic instead of a short synopsis of the topic content.
Mark Zuckerberg had a meeting with notable conservatives to re-establish any trust that may have been lost. If the problem is to be resolved and Facebook Trending Topics are to be perfected, it will be through the testing rather than the schmoozing, but hey, just for good measure, I suppose.
Like most things, trending topics is something that Google does quite well. You can also get historical trend data form their interface and explore topics deeply. At this juncture, I’d use them and/or Twitter for trends rather than Facebook Trending Topics just to make sure you’re getting true trends rather than curated trends. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.