Facebook is deleting its problematic Trending Topics section as the social network rethinks how to showcase news. The section, which appears to the right of the main news feed on the desktop and in search on mobile, has been a lightning rod for criticism almost since its launch in 2014.
Conservatives were outraged by allegations in 2016 that news curators had suppressed articles from right-leaning news outlets from being featured. Facebook responded to the backlash by removing humans from the equation, and relying purely on algorithms — which produced a different set of problems, like surfacing bogus news accounts, like the erroneous story about Fox News firing Megyn Kelly for supporting Hillary Clinton.
The Kelly hoax was supposed to be an anomaly, but a subsequent audit by The Intercept found other instances of trending stories that were indisputably fake or profoundly inaccurate. Some believe this shift opened the door to larger scandals, such as Russian operatives’ use of the social media platform to spread propaganda during the presidential election.
“We found that over time people found the product to be less and less useful,” Alex Hardiman, Facebook’s head of news products, wrote in a blog post this morning. “We will remove Trending from Facebook next week and we will also remove products and third-party partner integrations that rely on the Trends API.”
Hardiman said Facebook is exploring new ways to keep people informed about breaking news, citing a test with 80 publishers across North America, South America, Europe, India and Australia to allow publishers to place a “breaking news” indicator on their posts in the main news feed.
Facebook also is testing a dedicated section called Today In that connects people to breaking news from local publishers in their cities, as well as to updates from local officials and organizations. Facebook Watch will soon have a dedicated section for live news coverage.
“We are committed to ensuring the news that people see on Facebook is high quality,” Hardiman said. “And we’re investing in ways to better draw attention to breaking news when it matters most.