Tech

Facebook finally kills its terrible Trending news section

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In a surprising Friday news dump, Facebook announced it will remove the Trending news section from its website and app. 

The company says its users are increasingly consuming news through mobile and video, and it will begin to focus its attention on those two categories. The Trending section will be removed for all users by next week.

In a statement, the company said:

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 says it’s exploring new ways to help people stay informed about up-to-the-minute news events including things like working with 80 publishers to add a new breaking news label to posts on in the News Feed.

The social network is also testing a section called “Today In” that aims to connect users to the latest breaking news from local publishers in their respective cities. The section will also include updates from local officials and organizations that have a Facebook page.

Finally, the company is betting big on its video platform Facebook Watch, where it plans to host live coverage, daily news briefings, and weekly news recaps that are exclusive to the platform.

Trend of an era

Facebook’s decision to kill the Trending section comes after a long, dubious saga in which the social network was widely criticized for the effectiveness and legitimacy of the feed. 

In 2016, I reported for Gizmodo that the company hired a small group of about a dozen young journalists, primarily educated at Ivy League or East Coast universities, to curate and decide what everyone in the U.S. was able to see in the Trending module — and more importantly what they weren’t able to see.

In a separate May 2016 story, I reported that the company was regularly suppressing conservative news stories. Facebook’s news curation process involved curators using something called an “injection tool” to force news into the Trending feed that wasn’t naturally trending. The curators also used a “blacklisting tool” that would keep certain news events out of the feed.

In August 2016, four months after those stories were published, Facebook fired the entire team of Trending news curators. It was only three days after Facebook decided to fire the team that Facebook’s algorithm promoted a factually inaccurate story claiming then-Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly was kicked out of the company for backing Hillary Clinton.

The human curation process has been widely debated since the initial controversy over the Trending module, and it was also the subject of a Wired cover story. Ultimately, the tool appears to have created more headaches for Facebook than it was actually worth to the company.

Adios, Facebook Trending! I doubt many will miss you.

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