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Facebook axed human Trending News editors, algorithm immediately goes full-on FAIL

Aug 30, 20163 mins
Data and Information SecurityInternetSecurity

Facebook took human editors out of the equation, in favor of AI, and its Trending algorithm immediately served up fake, disturbing and rude news.

Hopefully you were not curious about why McChicken was trending on Twitter. If you checked it out and saw the graphic video of a man engaging in a sexual act with the McDonald’s sandwich, then you might have wished for a miracle cure to unsee it.

But Twitter was not the only place McChicken was trending; it was also trending on Facebook because it was going viral.

A week ago, this would not have happened because humans were involved in Facebook’s Trending news module. But on Friday, Facebook axed the entire editorial staff on the Trending team and replaced them with an algorithm. If you were to rewind back to May, that was when the public learned that people, not an algorithm alone, were tweaking what showed up in Trending news; that, in turn, sparked an outcry of anti-conservative bias.

Facebook said Trending would now be “more automated and will no longer require people to write descriptions for Trending topics.” The company’s “goal is to enable Trending for as many people as possible, which would be hard to do if we relied solely on summarizing topics by hand. A more algorithmically driven process allows us to scale Trending to cover more topics and make it available to more people globally over time.”

Yet the Trending team editorial staff, which were fired on Friday at 4pm in a meeting with security guard present, did much more than write descriptions for Trending topics. Gizmodo reported that the previous system would prevent fake news from trending as well as avoid linking to certain sites. The curators “formerly used an ‘injection tool’ and a ‘blacklisting’ tool,” and kept “celebrities and other frivolous topics” in Trending because those subjects were more popular.

Facebook admitted that humans will still be involved to ensure “topics that appear in Trending remain high-quality.” That goal was total FAIL right off the bat; one example of an algorithmically-controlled Trending news story was a completely fake news story about Fox News host Megyn Kelly. The made-up news suggested she was labeled a traitor for backing Hillary Clinton for president and then fired. Another headline suggested “SNL Star Calls Ann Coulter a Racist C*nt.” And then there was whole McChicken fiasco.

Gizmodo said a team of engineers will be responsible for tweaking the algorithm. They better get busy, unless this is what Facebook meant by keeping people in the loop to make sure Trending news is “high-quality.”

Microsoft goofs too

Microsoft has also been in caught in a couple “oops” lately and had to issue apologies. The Guardian reported that the “Bing translation service suggested that the Arabic name for Islamic State ‘Daesh’ meant ‘Saudi Arabia’ in English.” That resulted in Saudi social media users calling for a boycott of all Microsoft products.

The Register also reported that Microsoft relied on inaccurate Wikipedia data which caused Bing Maps to misplace the Australian city of Melbourne “by a whole hemisphere.”

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.