The New York Times reports that much of Facebook’s problems with its Trending News feature, which sparked a national controversy after internal sources said its team were biased against conservatives, were primarily due to its young, inexperienced staffers.
According to the Times, news curators, who picked which topics were “injected” into Facebook’s Trending Topics list, were also overseen by copy editors and team leads — much like a traditional news organization.
Trending Topics was a fledgling, ill-managed group — made up largely of recent college graduates with little work experience — where individual judgment of news was encouraged. That led to inconsistencies in how the most popular stories were presented, along with departures from the team, eventually landing the group in the controversy that spotlights Facebook’s huge role in the type of information people see every day.
…Facebook’s trending algorithms, which identify the mosttalkedabout terms, were not very good at discerning what was and was not news. Left to their own devices, roughly 40 percent of what Facebook’s algorithms dug up would be junk or “noise,” a result of many people using the same word at the same time across the network. The algorithm might pick up a sharp rise in the word “Skittles” and deem it a trending topic — not exactly the events Facebook had in mind.
That is where humans came in. Facebook enlisted a set of 20 somethings as curators, copy editors and team leads, charged with sifting through the material the algorithms unearthed. They were crucial, they were told, to improving Facebook’s ability to discern, over time, what constitutes news.
In Facebook’s editorial guidelines, curators were also told to “blacklist,” or push aside, junk topics that appeared in their queue for a period of eight to 24 hours before they could potentially appear again, according to current and former employees. When duplicate or confusing topics arose, curators were told to “inject” a more accurate Topic term. Copy editors and team leads would also oversee and approve the choices being made.