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Facebook puts the end into Trending

In February, a Wired piece on the origins of our reckoning over social media put laid the blame on Fa
June 1 · Issue #149 · View online
The Interface
In February, a Wired piece on the origins of our reckoning over social media put laid the blame on Facebook’s Trending Topics widget. The infamous Gizmodo story which alleged Facebook that “routinely suppressed conservative news,” despite all subsequent evidence to the contrary, triggered a crisis at the company, and we’re still feeling the effects today.
Facebook’s initial response was the fire the human editors who shaped Trending Topics. Afterward it was flooded with misinformation, and Facebook eventually stopped investing it. (Craig Silverman has a nice history of all the misinformation visited upon us by Trending Topics since 2016.) Today the company announced the inevitable and killed it for good. My colleague Jake Kastrenakes has the details:
Facebook will remove the Trending news box that’s sat to the right of the desktop News Feed for the last four years, the company said today. The removal comes after years of criticism around how Facebook picked stories to sit in the Trending box, not to mention more than a year of struggles with the reliability of any news being distributed through its platform.
The Trending box will be removed next week. Facebook says it was active in five countries and accounted for “less than 1.5 percent of clicks to news publishers on average.” The company is currently testing other ways to deliver news, including breaking news labels and a section that collects local stories.
The death of Trending Topics is probably a good thing. Trending modules across the internet are too easily gamed — especially by those with a financial or state-motivated interest. Here’s Brian Feldman, writing in February in Select All:
This is the other problem of “trending,” conceptually: It’s eminently gameable, but the platforms that use the term never make the rules clear. “Trending” is given the imprimatur of authority — videos or topics handed down from on high, scientifically determined to have trended — when really it’s a cobbled-together list of content being obsessively shared or tweeted about by people who love Justin Bieber. Or Logan Paul. Or who believe in crisis actors.
It’s also, surprisingly enough, a concession to Twitter. Facebook added “trends” in hopes of capturing some of the real-time discussion that thrives on Twitter — one of many such efforts the company has made over the past decade. With Facebook now focusing on friends and family over journalism, Facebook may have decided that if Twitter wants to solve all the problems associated with “trends,” it can have them. 
But the truly wild thing about the death of Trending Topics is that it died over what was essentially a lie. Forgive the self-quote, but this is the best I can put it:
I’m struck how, in retrospect, the story that helped to trigger our current anxieties had the problem exactly wrong. The story offered a dire warning that Facebook exerted too much editorial control, in the one narrow section of the site where it actually employed human editors, when in fact the problem underlying our global misinformation crisis is that it exerted too little. Gizmodo’s story further declared that Facebook had become hostile to conservative viewpoints when in fact conservative viewpoints — and conservative hoaxes — were thriving across the platform.
In fact, when NewsWhip most recently reported on which publishers saw the most Facebook engagement, the No. 1 spot — with more than 30 million engagements on more than 47,000 stories in April alone — was Fox News. The ascendancy of partisan journalism on Facebook is one trend that no change to the algorithm has yet been able to stop.

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