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Facebook calls time on trending topics

Facebook calls time on trending topics

Social network Facebook has recently announced that it will be shutting down its trending topics feature.

Company officials claim that the tool has become outdated and has not been a particularly popular feature in its four-year stint on the site. As well as this, there have been hints that trending topics have been connected with its well documented problems with fake news, political biases and the site’s issues with computerised content editors.

Trending topics was first launched in 2014 and appeared on the right hand side of the main timeline. It took the simple format of a list of news headlines in a bid to give users a fast way to see the most popular news at the time.

At the time, it was seen as the company aping one of rival network Twitter’s main features in an attempt to attract users over to Facebook from its competitor. The introduction of the tool also seemingly fit into the plans of Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who said in 2014 that he wanted to make Facebook into a ‘personal newspaper’ for its users to easily be able to access trending news.

Fake news was not something anyone was worrying about at the time, and trending topics in that year included the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the Ebola virus outbreak in Western Africa and the death of actor Robin Williams.

In more recent times, the company has been testing other news-related features including a breaking news label that allows publishers to mark content as breaking news to differentiate them from other content on the site. Publishers would only be allowed to use this tag once a day and the content would feature prominently on a user’s timeline for a time period while the news is breaking, then appear less frequently afterwards.

According the head of news products at Facebook, Alex Hardiman, although the trending topics feature is set to be wiped from the platform, the site is still focused on bringing users the latest news headlines. This is because a study from Pew Research Centre revealed that as many as 44% of all US adults turn to Facebook to bring them up to date with the latest news stories.

The beginning of the end of trending topics started in 2016, when Facebook was accused of political biases towards one party. Although Zuckerberg does have strong political viewpoints, he denied any biases on the site, but the company has struggled to shake off this notion even two years on. To rid the site of these accusations, Facebook replaced human editors with computerised ones that were programmed to be free of any bias. However, the software started to pick out posts that were getting the most interaction, even if it was a fake news story.

After this, Facebook began to make alterations so that only content published by certain news outlets appeared in the trending topics section. However, the company now seems to have decided to focus its resources in other departments of the site and that fixing trending topics was not worth it, so has decided to ditch the tool altogether.

Alan Littler

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