Understanding Facebook's quasi-journalistic trending algorithm

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Facebook fired the human journalists working on its trending section (see posts passim) and replaced them with algorithmic journalists. It went…uh…well:

Over the weekend, the fully automated Facebook trending module pushed out a false story about Fox News host Megyn Kelly, a controversial piece about a comedian’s four-letter word attack on rightwing pundit Ann Coulter, and links to an article about a video of a man masturbating with a McDonald’s chicken sandwich.

You can thank me (and The Guardian) for that final mental image later. What the hell is going on with that algorithm?

Well, Quartz thinks it knows:

Facebook hasn’t been forthcoming about how its algorithm works; the company declined to answer any questions for this article. It’s exceedingly vague in blog posts about the algorithm’s methodology, and the software is absent in every engineering blog. But company patent filings, along with general information Facebook has shared publicly and with Quartz in the past week, and interviews with previous Facebook curators, give us a glimpse into how the Trending algorithm works.

It all smacks of Facebook arrogance: thinking it can automate journalism without understanding the basics of journalism.


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.