When FB Replaced Editors with Algorithm

Ruben Baart
September 7th 2016

Remember how earlier this year an algorithm went rogue? Something similar happened recently when Facebook decided to eliminate its editors of the 'trending' news module and left an algorithm to do this job. What Zuckerberg's team did not foresee is that algorithm without humans went crazy, pushing out false stories about a news anchor, a writer and McDonald’s.

In 2014, Facebook introduced the 'trending’ module to the social network homepage sidebar in the attempt to personalize the content for each user. The allegedly algorithmically run feature was exposed earlier this year for only partially being driven by machines, with a team of news editors taking responsibility for tweaking the selected top stories. That same week, the company was accused of running politically biased content.

Last Friday, the company announced they eliminated human jobs to broaden the scope of their news operation. “Our goal is to enable Trending for as many people as possible, which would be hard to do if we relied solely on summarizing topics by hand. A more algorithmically driven process allows us to scale Trending to cover more topics and make it available to more people globally over time”.

The trending module was meant to have ‘learned’ from the human editors’ curation decisions, but this did not happened. In fact, soon after the 'trending' section was no longer governed by human intervention, the algorithm started publishing inappropriate content, accusing a Fox News host of endorsing Hillary Clinton, firing racist comments towards a writer and sharing a videolink of a masturbating man eating a McChicken.

As Facebook is becoming one of the biggest distributors of news, this comes with great responsibility. The company’s growing faith in machine intelligence cannot allow shortcomings at their source. Facebook appears to aim high for automation, as earlier in August they released their next stage of machine vision. Let's hope these new mechanics are more kind-hearted.

Source: The Guardian. Image: Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty

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