Facebook’s Trending Topics Adjustments Are Half-Measures

In November, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised to fix Facebook’s infestation of fake news. Today, Facebook announced changes to their trending topics section:

Today we’re announcing three updates to Trending, a feature that shows people popular topics being discussed on Facebook that they might not see in their News Feed:

  • Trending topics will now feature a publisher headline below each topic name

  • An improved system to determine what is trending

  • Everyone in the same region will see the same topics

These changes begin rolling out today and will be available to everyone in the US in the coming weeks. We’re listening to people’s feedback and will continue to make improvements in order to provide a valuable Trending experience.

In response, Media Matters’ President Angelo Carusone released the following statement:

At Media Matters, we have been doing a deep dive on the fake news ecosystem on Facebook and understand it better than anyone. Accordingly, we understand what will have an effect and what won’t. We’ll give credit where credit is due, but will also hold Facebook to its commitment to address its role in the proliferation of fake news.

That said, today’s announced policy changes are at best a marginal improvement. While moving in the right direction, these half-measures will not stop the rampant lies spreading on the platform. We can’t forget that Facebook made the problem of fake news significantly worse when they acted on right-wing misinformation and fired all their human editors over the summer and let their algorithms get gamed.

Ultimately, Facebook’s timidity in addressing this problem will prove bad for business and stands in in stark contrast to Snapchat’s bold actions earlier this week that were aimed at stopping the spread of lies and false impressions. So, we’re encouraged by the small improvements, specifically the changes to transparency in the trending topics section, but we await Facebook prioritizing truth in the same way their competitors have demonstrated.

Earlier this week, The New York Times detailed the success of Snapchat’s “hard line” on misleading images, and BuzzFeed previously examined how the platform has worked to keep fake news out. You can read more of Media Matters detailed work on fake news here.