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Facebook to pull plug on 'Trending' topics feature

Facebook to pull plug on 'Trending' topics feature

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. "And we're investing in ways to better draw attention to breaking news when it matters most".

Facebook said it is also testing a new section called "Today In", which displays local breaking news, and a dedicated section of Facebook Watch in the US for live videos and other items exclusive to the platform.

But Alex Hardiman, the company's head of news products, said in a blog post that users are shifting to consuming news on their phones and through video. And, because algorithms are not ideal, they repeatedly goofed up, allowing fake news stories to spread across the network by highlighting factually inaccurate links that were going viral as well as other inappropriate content. Facebook Watch will soon have a dedicated section for live news coverage.

Over 80 news publishers are now testing the "breaking news" label, which allows them to opt to flag their Instant Articles, mobile and web links, and Facebook Live video as breaking news, the company tells us.

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Trending Topics started in 2014 and caused plenty of headaches for Facebook.

"Breaking news has to look different than a recipe", Hardiman said. First came a report that its human editors were biased against conservatives. It's being tested out in 30 markets in the U.S. Hardiman says the goal is to help "elevate great local journalism". Facebook also wants to make local news more prominent. The product is still in what Facebook calls "alpha" testing, which indicates it's very early days for this feature - an alpha test precedes a beta test, which itself is ahead of a public launch.

We'll see if doing away with the Trending section and delivering more meaningful news does anything to improve user trust in Facebook. In its announcement on Friday (June 1), Facebook said the section was driving only marginal traffic to news publishers. Facebook fired the team, and since then, algorithms have been largely responsible for governing what goes into the Trending sidebar, which is prominently displayed at the top of the desktop site.