Facebook dumps personalized trending topics after backlash

To help fight fake news, the social network takes another crack at how it presents popular stories. Now everyone in a region will see the same topics.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

Soon, these topics will be the same for everyone in a geographic region and will include a headline from a story on that particular topic.

Facebook/Screenshot by CNET

Facebook is once again trying to strengthen its reputation as a place for news and curb the spread of misinformation on the site.

The social network on Wednesday announced a major revamp to its trending topics feature -- that section on the right-hand side of your news feed that lists news topics popular on Facebook. Gone is the personalized interest-based list of topics. Now everyone in a geographic region will see the same trending topics.

With its 1.79 billion users, Facebook is playing an influential societal role as more people look to the social network to get their news. Over 40 percent of American adults get their news from Facebook, according to the Pew Research Center and Knight Foundation.

But the company has been grappling with its role in the media industry as it tries to find the line between being a distributor of news and taking responsibility for what kinds of news stories gain traction on the site.

That's been a touchy subject for Facebook, as people argued misinformation spread on Facebook helped Donald Trump win the election. Some also blamed Facebook for creating "filter bubbles," in which people only see stuff on the social network that already aligns with what they believe, thanks to the company's algorithms.

In addition to doing away with the personalized list, there are two other big changes to the trending topics section that will start rolling out today and will take place for everyone in the US "in the coming weeks."

First, instead of just seeing a bare-bones topic, like "Saturn" or "X-men," two things that had been trending for me, you'll see a full headline from one of the news stories about that topic. That's the headline that had always popped up when you hovered over the topic.

Second, Facebook is changing the way the topics are selected. The topics had been chosen based on how many people on Facebook are engaging with it. With the new changes, Facebook will look at the number of outlets posting stories on a particular topic, and decide its inclusion based on engagement around that group of articles.

"This should surface trending topics quicker, be more effective at capturing a broader range of news and events from around the world and also help ensure that topics reflect real world events being covered by multiple news outlets," Will Cathcart, vice president of product management, said in a statement.

This is the second time Facebook has made big changes to the trending topics feature. Before August, each topic was accompanied by a short description. But Facebook nixed those descriptions after a major controversy last year. After reports that Facebook was trying to suppress news from conservative outlets, the company put the new system in place.

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