In a Friday press release, Facebook announced that it will be removing the Trending news section from its website and mobile platforms. Trending news will be completely removed for all users by next week.
Facebook says Trending was only available in 5 countries anyway as it was a pilot program. Their internal data has shown it’s become less and less useful and accounted for less than 2% of clicks to news publishers.
We introduced Trending in 2014 as a way to help people discover news topics that were popular across the Facebook community. However, it was only available in five countries and accounted for less than 1.5 percent of clicks to news publishers on average. From research we found that over time people found the product to be less and less useful. We will remove Trending from Facebook next week and we will also remove products and third-party partner integrations that rely on the Trends API.
Facebook is still committed to helping its users stay informed on news events and are exploring a number of pilot programs for that purpose. One idea being explored is a breaking news label on certain posts in the News Feed. The company is also testing a local news feature called “Today” that will connect users to breaking news in their respective localities.
Overall, I think killing the Trending section was a smart move. I never used it anyway, but there has been a lot of controversy over it from day one. Facebook hired a team of young journalists all from Ivy League universities (think: liberal) to curate and decide what showed up in the Trending module, and also what didn’t. Even if you give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re all honest brokers on deciding what we can and can’t see it’s still ripe for abuse.
A piece in 2016 on Gizmodo actually did uncover abuse. They found that the company was regularly suppressing conservative news stories. They used a “blacklisting tool” to keep stories they didn’t like from appearing in the feed.
Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential “trending” news section, according to a former journalist who worked on the project. This individual says that workers prevented stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the highly-influential section, even though they were organically trending among the site’s users.
Several former Facebook “news curators,” as they were known internally, also told Gizmodo that they were instructed to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all. The former curators, all of whom worked as contractors, also said they were directed not to include news about Facebook itself in the trending module.
Not long after that and other stories were published Facebook fired the news curation team and began to rely on an algorithm instead. Then a few days later the new algorithm promoted an inaccurate story about former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.
So the bottom line is that human curators can’t be trusted and neither can the algorithm. There was no point in keeping around a tool that barely anybody uses, that can’t be trusted, and only causes controversy and headaches for the company. Killing Trending news is the right thing to do.