Facebook is making several changes as part of its ongoing identity struggle to reconcile its role as an influential source of news and information with its primary identity as a tech company. After the social network faced heavy criticism for disseminating fake news during the presidential election, Facebook rolled out a fact-checking program and unveiled a new journalism initiative, led by Campbell Brown, earlier this month.
The new updates will affect its “Trending” section, a sidebar that lists the most popular topics on Facebook, and acts as the social network’s breaking news section by linking to news articles. The three changes to the section, which vice president of product management Will Cathcart revealed in a blog post today, are designed to make Facebook a more trustworthy source of news.
Trending topics will now be determined by how many publishers are posting about the same topic rather than high engagement around a single story, something that, according to Cathcart, will help in the fight against spreading false information. “Today’s update may also help prevent hoaxes and fake news from appearing in Trending because the updated system identifies groups of articles shared on Facebook instead of relying solely on mentions of a topic,” Cathcart said in the post.
Another change to the section will mean that a headline from the story, and the name of the publisher, will be displayed underneath the topic in order to “provide people with more context on what is trending on Facebook.”
Additionally, everyone in the same region will see the same stories in their trending box, rather than a personalized feed. “This is designed to help make sure people don’t miss important topics being discussed on Facebook that might not show up in their News Feed,” Cathcart explained.
Facebook’s Trending section came under scrutiny in May after a Gizmodo report revealed allegations that the journalists tasked with selecting the stories and writing the headlines were routinely suppressing conservative topics. In August, Facebook said that the “Trending” topics would be determined by an algorithm rather than humans.