Trending Topics started in 2014 and caused plenty of headaches for Facebook.
Trending Topics started in 2014 and caused plenty of headaches for Facebook.Facebook
Facebook will remove its troubled "Trending Topics" section next week, the company said Friday, signaling that the controversial feature was better off dead as Facebook builds different products for news.
The section, which takes up important real estate on the social network's desktop interface, has faced backlash since it first rolled out in 2014. Often criticized for surfacing conspiracies and fake information, like a hoax about 9/11 and a false article about then-Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, the Trending Topics section sparked an outcry in 2016 when a report alleged the feature purposely suppressed conservative news outlets.
Facebook's reaction to that 2016 controversy -- to pull human moderators off Trending Topics so it's stocked purely by an algorithm -- has been cited as opening the door for larger scandals like electorate tampering and misinformation campaigns. A perception that Facebook had editorial bias made leadership skittish about even creating the appearance it was suppressing news, which gave fake stories a clearer path to spread.
On Friday, Facebook minimized Trending Topics' impact in a blog post announcing the change. "It was only available in five countries and accounted for less than 1.5 percent of clicks to news publishers on average," Alex Hardiman, Facebook's head of news products, said in the post. "From research we found that over time people found the product to be less and less useful."
The date for Trending Topics to be removed is Thursday, June 7.
Facebook said it is testing different ways for news to spread on its Facebook instead, including a "breaking news" label and a dedicated section on Facebook for local news called Today In. It will also launch news videos like live coverage, daily news briefings and weekly deep dives in its Watch tab, the service's home base for video.
Facebook shared some early results from some of these product tests. The "breaking news" tag, which is being tested by 80 publishers, has caused a 4 percent increase in people clicking through links and an 11 percnent lift in people sharing those stories. The Today In section, which is being piloted in 33 US cities, is driving an average of 8 percent more traffic outbound from Facebook to the publishers themselves.
First published June 1 at 8:20 a.m. PT.
Update at 11:06 a.m. PT: Adds date for Trending Topics to be taken down.
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