Back in late August, the algorithmically-driven process that had taken the place of Facebook’s Trending Topics editorial team pushed a fake story about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly to the top of the trending list. It was though to be a one-off, but not according to a new report from the Washington Post.
The publication logged every trending story from August 31 through to September 22 using four different Facebook accounts during workday hours. It found five trending stories that were fake and three that were “profoundly inaccurate.” Given the times it logged the trending stories, and the fact that Facebook personalizes them for each user, there may have been more fake items that the Post missed.
One of the news stories arrived the day after the Apple iPhone 7 event. It claimed that Tim Cook had said one of the new features of next year’s iPhone 8 would see “Siri physically coming out of the phone and doing all the household chores,” which would be pretty fantastic, admittedly. Readers' suspicions may have been aroused by the name of the site where the story appeared: “Faking News.”
It was also found that press releases, blog posts from sites such as Medium, and links to online stores such as iTunes regularly trended – items that hardly fall into the category of news.
Facebook laid off its entire Trending Topics editorial staff following accusations it was routinely suppressing conservative news stories from appearing in the section. It continues to be monitored by a small team of people to make sure the topics remain “high-quality.” Seems they let a few slip by.