Facebook could be forced back to the drawing board in order to fix its newly automated Trending topics section after its algorithm suffered two consecutive blunders.
Last week, the social network pushed ahead with its plans to implement an algorithmic Trending feed in response to the allegations of bias, which mutated into a full-blown backlash earlier this year. However, Facebook’s more independent Trending news section is now back in the spotlight following back-to-back errors.
The trouble started on Monday when users spotted a fake news story in the Trending feed. The false article claimed Fox News had fired its popular anchor Megyn Kelly due to her allegiance with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. To add insult to injury, the preview that accompanied the story was full of grammatical errors and typos — Facebook had previously assigned the task of composing article blurbs to its human editors.
Things went from bad to worse when another Trending topic — this time in the form of a seemingly innocent hashtag that was related to a wholly inappropriate video — fooled the system. The complaints started pouring in via social media on Monday when unaware users clicked on the #McChicken hashtag in the Trending feed. The term turned out to be linked to an obscene video of a man performing a sexual act with the McDonald’s burger in question. It was the flurry of outraged, and humorous, user reactions that resulted in the hashtag being picked up by trending algorithms on both Twitter and Facebook in the first place, reports Business Insider.
Weirdly enough, Facebook had assured users that it would still employ humans to double-check that randomly popular terms (such as #lunch) weren’t making the list due to their irrelevance. Nonetheless, the company was convinced that “a more algorithmically driven process” was the best way forward. It turns out the social network’s semi-autonomous method still has some bugs in the system.
Just as damaging could be the reports of Facebook’s firing of its entire team of human editors, who were shown the door on the day the changes were revealed, according to Quartz. The original report that led to the entire Trending backlash also carried allegations of mistreatment from ex-workers, who felt they were entirely expendable to the company. Judging from the algorithm’s latest missteps, Facebook may need to welcome its human editors back into the fold.