Facebook makes changes to trending topics to reduce fake news

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In an effort to address the problem of fake news that some believe swayed the U.S. presidential election, Facebook Inc. has made some major changes to its Trending Topics section.

Today Facebook announced that in the U.S., at least, trending news now will be based on stories that have appeared in a number of publications, instead of on one-off stories that may have appeal to readers but could be untrue.

In another major change, topics no longer will be personalized, meaning that people in a certain region will all see the same topics. Facebook says this is to ensure people in that region discover a wider range of topics. In the past, the personalized news feed came under scrutiny because it was said to create echo chambers in which readers where constantly reading only views that aligned with their own.

Will Cathcart, Facebook’s vice president of product management, said the move would “help prevent hoaxes and fake news from appearing in Trending because the updated system identifies groups of articles shared on Facebook instead of relying solely on mentions of a topic.”

This is one of several initiatives by Facebook to curtail the spread of fake news. Late last year Facebook gave readers the opportunity to flag what they deemed dubious content, while also working with a number of fact-checking organizations.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has stated that the task of keeping Facebook free of fictitious content is not an easy one, but regardless, he said his company has a “new kind of responsibility” to do just that.

Media watchdog Media Matters for America has called the changes a “marginal improvement,” stating that Facebook’s “half-measures” are not as significant as Snap Inc.’s stringent publication guidelines announced earlier this week.

Photo credit: Robert Scoble via Flickr