Facebook is removing Trending Topics next week, saying that the feature has become “less useful” over time and that pulling the plug on it will “make way for future news experiences.” The feature accounted for an average of less than 1.5 percent of clicks to publishers from Facebook. Conservatives also decried the feature saying it proved Facebook’s liberal bias, an accusation the company is still trying to get out from under. Facebook now plans to pay some news outlets to produce daily and weekly news show for Watch.
The Wall Street Journal reports that, “the company plans to unveil some of those news shows as early as next week.” Facebook, which debuted Trending Topics in 2014 “as part of its effort to compete with sites like Twitter as a platform for conversations about real-time news,” hired a team of contractors in New York to summarize the most commonly discussed topics on the platform.”
Then, in May 2016, “Gizmodo reported these workers altered the list of Trending Topics by suppressing conservative viewpoints and injecting news stories that weren’t popular.” Facebook denied that report, but the damage was done.
Facebook later “revealed documents showing curators had more oversight over what appears in the trending feature than the company previously had disclosed, including the ability to ‘inject’ breaking news stories into the feature even if the topic wasn’t popular yet.” Curators consulted a “list of Facebook-approved sources” including WSJ to make sure trending topics weren’t hoaxes.
The company tried to assuage conservatives in a meeting at Facebook headquarters, made changes to the feature and then, months later, “fired its Trending Topics curators and said it would allow software to govern most decisions.” That backfired, as “almost immediately the module became a vector for misinformation.”
In its blog post about removing Trending Topics, Facebook stated that the feature had only been available in five countries. In addition to removing Trending, the company will remove products and third-party partner integrations that rely on the Trends API. “We’ve seen that the way people consume news on Facebook is changing to be primarily on mobile and increasingly through news video.”
In addition to news video in Watch, Facebook is testing Breaking News Label, which lets 80 publishers across North America, South America, Europe, India and Australia put a “breaking news” indicator on their posts in News Feed. The company is also testing Today In, a dedicated section “that connects people to the latest breaking and important news from local publishers in their city, as well as updates from local officials and organizations.”