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Facebook’s Trending Topics served up a 9/11 conspiracy theory

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Facebook’s Trending Topics news ticker has been updated after showing readers a tabloid article promoting September 11th conspiracies. This morning, The Washington Post reported that the "September 11th Anniversary" topic was paired with a story from the Daily Star, which repeated a largely dismissed accusation that the 2001 terrorist attacks were actually controlled explosions. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the issue to the Post and BuzzFeed, saying that "we’re aware a hoax article showed up there, and as a temporary step to resolving this, we’ve removed the topic."

Currently, the trending bar includes "September 11 Memorials and Services" and links to a Time article; shortly after the Post image was published, we were served a USA Today story about a photograph from Ground Zero. But this is the latest in a number of inaccurate, inappropriate, or outright hoax stories to have appeared in Trending Topics over the past few weeks, since Facebook automated large parts of its news-gathering operation.

While employees are still involved in the process of vetting and pinning popular topics to Facebook’s sidebar, the process became far more hands-off in late August, both to increase its scale and to answer accusations of bias from human editors. At this point, it’s unclear what role the remaining engineers play in making sure misinformation doesn’t bubble up to Facebook’s de facto official newswire — and how today’s example slipped through.