Shortly after Facebook announced a range of changes to its Trending Topics section things started to go wrong.
As this blog post describes the update –
“Today, we’re making some changes to the Trending feature on Facebook that will make the product more automated and will no longer require people to write descriptions for trending topics….
…Our goal is to enable Trending for as many people as possible, which would be hard to do if we relied solely on summarising 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.”
Removing the entire editorial team who were behind curation of Trends in favour of a more-or-less automated service makes sense, it’s impossible to curate that much content in an unbiased way, on a global scale, by hand. Although the news stories and descriptions will be generated automatically there is still a team of people curating the content in some way.
However the algorithm tasked with handling this function immediately started to get into trouble.
An article of little to no substance with a very click bait headline was picked up by the algorithm and made it into trending, which didn’t go unnoticed by users, but remained trending for hours before being removed by Facebook early Monday.
Megyn Kelly is trending on Facebook for an article that has no basis in reality. pic.twitter.com/31f4ERnzHI
— Kyle Blaine (@kyletblaine) August 29, 2016
— Justin Green (@JGreenDC) August 29, 2016
This was followed by a couple of similar click bait links and then, disturbingly, an article containing a video of a man masturbating with a McDonald’s chicken sandwich.
No, I’m not going to put a link to that.
This led to #McChicken trending across Twitter and Facebook, exactly the sort of thing the now unemployed Trends team were looking out for.
This just goes to show that automation without human intervention is a very dangerous game, especially in social.