Facebook News Feed Head: Trending Topics Is ‘Better’ Without Human Editors

Facebook News Feed Head: Trending Topics Is ‘Better’ Without Human Editors
Facebook's news feed. (AFP)

Facebook’s manager in charge of news feed said the app’s Trending Topics section works ’better’ without human curators and that original sharing is rising on the social network. (AFP)

Facebook’s manager in charge of news feed, Adam Mosseri, said that the company’s prominent “Trending Topics” section — which highlights about a dozen news topics for the app’s 1.7 billion users — is a ”better” product without human curators, whose role has been eliminated. Mosseri’s comments came after Facebook FB +0.46% displayed a series of inaccurate news stories in the feature, including a false story about the 9/11 terrorist attacks and a fake story about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, soon after cutting its team of human editors.

Mosseri, Facebook’s vice president of product for news feed, was interviewed on stage on Wednesday at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. Mosseri said Facebook uses technology in news feed to filter out hoaxes, fake stories and clickbait, and intends to introduce similar automated systems to Trending Topics. Facebook links each trending item to a single news story, displaying the number of people discussing that topic on the social network. Mosseri said Facebook’s display of fake news stories in recent weeks cannot be attributed to the company’s removal of human editors.

“The process by which stories show up in Trending didn’t change,” Mosseri said.

However, in May, Facebook’s VP of global operations Justin Osofsky said in a post that an “important” responsibility of the “team of people” working on the feature was “in making sure that what appears in Trending Topics is high-quality and useful.” (“The guidelines demonstrate that we have a series of checks and balances in place to help surface the most important popular stories, Osofsky’s statement in May continued.)

Mosseri describe the elimination of editors as ”a question of what was the right experience and what can scale to everyone.” He also said Trending Topics scales better internationally without human-written topic descriptions, which were previously available only in English.

When asked about Facebook’s deletion and later reinstatement of the historic “Napalm Girl” Vietnam War photo from several users’ posts, including a Norwegian newspaper, Mosseri said the photo violated Facebook’s community standards, which bans certain images such as nudity or content that solicits violence. Mosseri said Facebook changed its stance as a result of receiving community feedback that the photo was important.

“We’re iterating on our policy to make room for that kind of content,” Mosseri said. “Our standards are a work in progress. We’re looking at how to improve all the time.”

Even though Facebook generates “Trending Topics” and ranks which articles and posts to show users, Mosseri echoed earlier statements by the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg that Facebook is not a media business.

“We think of ourselves as at tech company because primarily the problems we deal with on a day-to-day basis are technology problems,” Mosseri said. ”Our responsibility is to make sure that we are a platform for all ideas, that people are safe. We’re not in the business of deciding what issues people should read about. We don’t create content.”

The average Facebook user typically sees only about 200 posts and articles per day in their news feed, about 10% of about 2,000 available items. Mosseri said Facebook’s mission with news feed is to “connect people with the stories that matter to them” and that the biggest factors determining what content people see in their feeds are who they friend and which publishers they follow. Facebook listens closely to the sentiment users self-report on their feelings toward the news feed experience and whether they think the content they see is worth their time, Mosser said. He noted that Facebook aims to proactively explain any major changes to news feed before they roll out and that most users say they come to Facebook primarily to stay up to date with friends and family.

Mosseri also said original sharing – when users post photos, videos, links or status updates — is “healthy and growing” on the social network, despite some reports that it has been declining. He also noted that users are reading more in news feed, liking more and commenting more. Facebook’s last publicly said that U.S. users spend on average more than 45 minutes per day in the app. Mosseri said this figure is increasing.

One of the biggest areas of focus for the news feed team right now is improving the product experience for users in emerging markets such as India, Mosseri said. Many users in those regions use 2G connections and older phone models, which makes it harder to quickly load posts. Optimizing news feed for users in developing countries is one part of a multi-part strategy by Facebook to bring new users on to the app globally. Facebook is also working on a number of Internet connectivity efforts such as wifi plans, satellites and Internet-beaming drones to improve global Internet infrastructure.


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