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Facebook's Algorithms Have Been Trending Fake News

LaunchableMag.com
Facebook seem bullheadedly determined to leave a huge contingent of their management duties in the hands of machines. Algorithms have brought them many a mishap, mostly in the form of flagging content as inappropriate, erm, inappropriately, and as such, the news that they were going to start using algorithms to pick trending news was met with more than a little skepticism.

That skepticism was compounded by the fact that, only 3 days after Facebook started doing this, said algorithms highlighted a story about Fox News presenter having been branded a 'traitor' and unceremoniously fired for supporting Hillary Clinton. It was a completely bogus, mean spirited piece of writing which sat at the top of the trending list like an ugly totem for hours before Facebook finally noticed and got rid of it.

At the time, they assured everyone that it was a one off, and wouldn't happen again, but since then The Washington Post's 'The Intersect' has been keeping a very close eye on them. They released the first report on the 4th, and largely showed that things were running relatively smoothly, apart from the tweaks they had to make to address the accusations of left-wing bias.

The second report came out on the 12th, and it revealed that between August 31st and September 22nd, 7 sketchy stories trended. 5 of these were completely bogus and a further 2 were, at best, iffy. This is just based on one account's findings, though, and as trending news is personalised, there's no telling how many other fake stories topped the chart.

Imagine, for example, if you followed a disproportionate amount, or even a noticeable amount of conspiracy theory pages on Facebook, what kind of news would you see then? What about satirical sites like News Thump and Wunderground? Well, one of the stories that The Intersect picked up was from Sports Pickle, which any seasoned sports fan will tell you is most definitely a parody site.

To a human, that's blatantly obvious, but an algorithm has no radar for sarcasm, and while it might be incapable of bias, there has to be some sort of trade-off. Open discussion between living, breathing editors about what news is worth broadcasting is never going to be replicated perfectly by a cloud of ones and zeros.

Facebook's internal processing is based on the activity of the people who use it, it groups them together based on the things they interact with, hence the 'echo chamber conundrum'. Personalised content on social media is all well and good, but personalised news? That's a reductive concept, we should all be getting the same news, it's how we react to it that sets us apart.



Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @Songbird_Callum


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Facebook's Algorithms Have Been Trending Fake News Reviewed by Callum Davies on Monday, October 17, 2016 Rating: 5

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