Facebook will remove its troubled "Trending Topics" section next week, the company said Friday, signaling that the controversial feature was better off dead as Facebook builds different products for news.
Facebook's head of news products, Alex Hardiman, said the company is still committed to real-time news. A January 2017 update to algorithms to "prevent fake news" from showing up in Trending apparently didn't do enough to impress the feature's critics.
Facebook's decision to partner with media outlets and rank news items by their trustworthiness has raised eyebrows, however, since the published partner list overwhelmingly leaned left and mainstream.
The human curation process has been widely debated since the initial controversy over the Trending module, and it was also the subject of a Wired cover story. This feature will be available to 80 selected publishers, spread across North and South America, Australia, India, and Europe. It was only available in five countries and generated less than 1.5% of clicks to new publishers.
According to Hardiman, Facebook will soon have a dedicated section on Facebook Watch in the US where people can view live coverage, daily news briefings and weekly features that will be exclusive to Watch.
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The date for Trending Topics to be removed is Thursday, June 7. Facebook does say that it's exploring new ways of helping users stay informed of "breaking news that matters to them, while making sure the news they see on Facebook is from trustworthy and quality sources". The Trending section is no longer trending among Facebook users.
We'll see if doing away with the Trending section and delivering more meaningful news does anything to improve user trust in Facebook.
While Facebook got attention for the problems the trending section had - perhaps because it seemed popular with journalists - neither its existence nor its removal makes much difference in regards to Facebook's broader problems with news.
Another feature, called Today In shows people breaking news in their area from local publishers, officials and organisations. The company is also funding news videos, created exclusively for Facebook by outside publishers it would not yet name.
Hardiman provided some examples of what the site may replace the section with in the near future.