Now Facebook’s Trending Column Actually Is Automated

Early in the summer, Facebook went through a quickly forgotten controversy regarding the Trending column on the right side of users' Facebook feed. The column shares a constantly updated cycle of blurbs on whatever Facebook is posting about at the time, ranging from celebrity opinions to cute cat videos to Twitter feuds—though Facebook would only ever replaced the word Twitter with “social media.”

The controversy? Facebook-hired editors were curating the feed, picking and choosing what to display. People didn't like the idea of someone else picking news for them, and Facebook had made it seem as though the process was algorithmic. The news blew over, and now Facebook has a reversal: Now the Facebook Trending section actually is being run by an algorithm. For realsies this time.

The Announcement

Both acknowledging the controversy and explaining that the reasons are for scalability, the announcement is a great example of corporate tactic:

“Our goal is to enable Trending for as many people as possible, which would be hard to do if we relied solely on summarizing topics by hand. A more algorithmically driven process allows us to scale Trending to cover more topics and make it available to more people globally over time. This is something we always hoped to do but we are making these changes sooner given the feedback we got from the Facebook community earlier this year.”

What It Means

Facebook will still rely on the human touch:

“There are still people involved in this process to ensure that the topics that appear in Trending remain high-quality — for example, confirming that a topic is tied to a current news event in the real world. The topic #lunch is talked about during lunchtime every day around the world, but will not be a trending topic.”

But the descriptions of the trends will be removed. Now Twitter's trending hashtags are basically the same as Facebook Trending. As Anil Dash put it on Twitter, “More accurate to say Facebook simply shifted headline writing from editors to software coders.”

Written by:

Adam is a writer at Tech.co and has worked as a tech writer, blogger and copy editor for more than a decade. He was a Forbes Contributor on the publishing industry, for which he was named a Digital Book World 2018 award finalist. His work has appeared in publications including Popular Mechanics and IDG Connect, and he has an art history book on 1970s sci-fi out from Abrams Books in 2023. In the meantime, he's hunting down the latest news on VPNs, POS systems, and the future of tech.

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