Alyssa Moore
Updated Aug 28, 2016 @ 11:27 am
Credit: Shutterstock

If you’ve spent some time surfing Facebook lately, you’ll have noticed an interesting new trend in “Trending.” Single words or phrases have taken the place of headlines, making breaking news a little less obvious; you have to mouse over to get the story.

The new and maybe-not-quite-improved headlines are the product of a news writing algorithm which recently replaced Facebook’s human “Content Curators” (aka editorial staff). According to a press release made by the social media giant, the changes are primarily meant to give “Trending” a wider reach, allowing the feature to cover more hot topics by cutting the time spent in writing real headlines.

But outside sources say the new process has worrying implications…and came about through enough drama to merit a sequel to The Social Network.

Credit: Columbia Pictures/giphy

Okay, here’s a brief summary ICYMI: Back in May, Facebook was accused of having a liberal bias after a Gizmodo report claimed that news editors were instructed to suppress conservative topics and inflate the importance of liberal ones. This ruffled some feathers in the US Senate, and Facebook was ordered to provide an explanation. They responded by publishing their internal guidelines for “Trending” and promising better employee training in future – despite their assertions that no evidence of bias-related incidents had been uncovered.

The new (and by some accounts unexpected) lay-off of fifteen to eighteen contractors

on the Trending staff, then, is merely the latest stage in this long and opaque drama. But according to some,the move won’t eliminate biased reporting, just conceal it. Research suggests that human biases can still be embedded in computer algorithms. And the decision to personalize users’ news headlines based on their web history and previously liked pages could easily lead to very one-sided reporting.

Biased or not? Better or worse? TBH, we aren’t sure, but we’re guessing this isn’t the last we’ll hear on the issue. In the mean time…read wisely!