Skip to main content

Facebook admits its trending news algorithm needs a lot of human help

Facebook admits its trending news algorithm needs a lot of human help

/

Company denies censoring conservative topics

Share this story

Sean O'Kane

Facebook is starting to open up about how a story starts trending, following accusations that it's been censoring conservative topics. In a post today, Facebook search VP Tom Stocky explains that human editors actually have a key role in determining what gets placed in the News Feed's Trending Topics box. "Reviewers are required to accept topics that reflect real world events, and are instructed to disregard junk or duplicate topics, hoaxes, or subjects with insufficient sources," Stocky writes.

On one hand, that means Facebook's editors have a blanket mandate to vet any topic its algorithm identifies as trending; this is meant to prevent biases from slipping in and accurately represent visitor interest. But it also means that Facebook's editors have the discretion to determine whether a topic is worthy or "junk."

"We take these reports extremely seriously"

That sounds like an easy enough job — we've all seen plenty of viral stories we'd consider "junk" on Facebook — but it inherently gives Facebook's editors a meaningful degree of input on what starts trending. They're also required to confirm whether a story appears sufficiently truthful. At a minimum, this should help to prevent the many fake news stories that still plague Facebook from showing up to millions of people.

But taken together, it's an admission that Facebook's algorithms aren't perfect; what we're looking at is a cleaned-up version of the algorithm, filtered by humans. That's what allows accusations of censorship to slip in, like those reported by Gizmodo yesterday. Stocky's explanation today backs up much of what was reported by Gizmodo in a look at the inner workings of Facebook's Trending Topics last week.

Facebook is now explicitly denying that any of its Trending Topics editors prevented conservative topics from appearing. "We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true," Stocky writes. He says that Facebook does not permit discrimination "against sources of any ideological origin" and that editor actions are reviewed.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Two hours ago Not just you

T
Youtube
Thomas RickerTwo hours ago
Table breaks before Apple Watch Ultra’s sapphire glass.

”It’s the most rugged and capable Apple Watch yet,” said Apple at the launch of the Apple Watch Ultra (read The Verge review here). YouTuber TechRax put that claim to the test with a series of drop, scratch, and hammer tests. Takeaways: the titanium case will scratch with enough abuse, and that flat sapphire front crystal is tough — tougher than the table which cracks before the Ultra fails — but not indestructible.


E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.


E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.


Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.