The Computer is Your Friend

Facebook was accused of having a liberal bias in its trending news by the flying monkey right wing.

This might be true, but as Stephen Colbert noted, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Facebook’s response was to replace them with an algorythm, and this algorythm has been repeatedly punked:

The Megyn Kelly incident was supposed to be an anomaly. An unfortunate one-off. A bit of (very public, embarrassing) bad luck. But in the six weeks since Facebook revamped its Trending system — and a hoax about the Fox News Channel star subsequently trended — the site has repeatedly promoted “news” stories that are actually works of fiction.

As part of a larger audit of Facebook’s Trending topics, the Intersect logged every news story that trended across four accounts during the workdays from Aug. 31 to Sept. 22. During that time, we uncovered five trending stories that were indisputably fake and three that were profoundly inaccurate. On top of that, we found that news releases, blog posts from sites such as Medium and links to online stores such as iTunes regularly trended. Facebook declined to comment about Trending on the record.

“I’m not at all surprised how many fake stories have trended,” one former member of the team that used to oversee Trending told the Post. “It was beyond predictable by anyone who spent time with the actual functionality of the product, not just the code.” (The team member, who had signed a nondisclosure agreement with Facebook, spoke on the condition of anonymity.)


There was the thinly-sourced story, on Aug. 31, of a Clemson University administrator who kicked a praying man off campus. (The sordid tale, aggregated by a right-wing outlet, has been soundly debunked by the school.)

The next week, on Sept. 8, Facebook promoted a breathless account of the iPhone’s new and literally magical features, sourced from the real news site Firstpost’s satirical Faking News page. The day after, Facebook trended a news release from the “Association of American Physicians and Surgeons” — a discredited libertarian medical organization — as well as a tabloid story claiming that the Sept. 11 attacks were a “controlled demolition.”


Last May, however, Facebook faced a torrent of high-profile accusations about political bias on the Trending editorial team — so much so that, in the aftermath, the company decided to tweak the role humans play in approving Trending topics. On Aug. 26, Facebook laid off its editorial team and gave the engineers who replaced them a much different mandate when it came to vetting news. Where editors were told to independently verify trending topics surfaced by the algorithm, even by cross-referencing “Google News and other news sources,” engineers were told to accept every trending topic linked to three or more recent articles, from any source, or linked to any article with at least five related posts..

The previous editorial team could also influence which specific news stories were displayed with each topic, rejecting the story selected by the algorithm if it was “biased,” “clickbait” or irrelevant. Trending’s current quality review team does not vet URLs.

The lessons learned here are two fold:

  • Computers are not there yet.
  • Letting the Talibaptist wing of our citizenry to dictate your news dissemination leads to batsh%$ insane things being flagged as true.

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