The social media giant, Facebook, carries news stories in their Trending Topics section, that might not be either “indisputably fake” or “profoundly inaccurate”, reports the Washington Post. Recently, a false story that appeared in the Trending Topics section claimed that Megyn Kelly, a news anchor for Fox News, had been fired based on her being a closet liberal who was supporting presidential nominee Hilary Clinton.
Facebooks response was to remove the story from its Trending Topics section, give an apology and promise to do better in the future. Unfortunately, this seems to be a hollow promise as not so accurate or truthful news stories are still making it to the Trending Topic section.
The Washington Post decided to conduct an experiment for a few weeks following the untruthful Megyn Kelly Story. They recorded the topics that were listed in the Trending Topics section, every day, at the top of the hour, using 4 different Facebook accounts.
Caitlyn Dewey reported that they discovered at least three trending stories reported were “profoundly inaccurate”, and five were “indisputably fake”. Dewey states, “”If anything, we’ve underestimated how often” fake news is cited on Facebooks Trending Topics.
David Abrahamson, a professor of journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, said, “In the brave new social media world, speed is everything, and veracity seems to not be regarded as too important.”
The gray area in this issue is that an entity that represents themselves as a reputable and objective news organization or website needs to ensure their stories are factual. Facebook, on the other hand, does not make this claim.
Michael Jude, a program manager employed at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan, stated that Facebook “makes it very clear that there are things they’ll decide shouldn’t be carried and that they’ll take off their site…Likewise, they don’t have to ensure what they carry is accurate. They haven’t guaranteed that they’d be objective.”
David Abrhamson argues that due to the increasing number of people that use Facebook’s Trending Topics to get their daily dose of news stories, Facebook should be held responsible for assuring the accuracy of their stories.
Originally, the editorial staff in Facebook’s Trending Topics department, was comprised of humans that were recently accused of putting an anti-conservative slant on the Trending Topics stories. Facebook’s response was to implement a process of selecting stories that depended on algorithms. Michael Jude states, “When you take human judgment out of the loop, even though it’s flawed and can be biased, you can’t guarantee the veracity of any of the sources…that’s why newspapers traditionally had editorial boards whose members had a wide range of philosophies and political persuasions.”
Also, people are able to identify when a story just doesn’t seem right and might need extra effort taken to verify its authenticity. Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, explains that a machine isn’t able to “inherently learn yet that they’re being tricked.” In order to adapt its screening process, a machine’s algorithm needs to be programmed to make the change, therefore requiring human interaction in a process that originally was performed by humans.
The short term solution to Facebooks Trending Topics fake story issue, is to require a human factor when making the decision on which stories to use. Until there is an algorithm that is able to verify stories using multiple sources, relying on computers to decide which stories are used will continue to result in not so true stories appearing alongside valid, truthful stories.