Face­book faces al­go­rith­mic gaffes

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Aug 26 state­ment by Face­book on news­room.fb.com By HENG WEILI in New York and REUTERS Con­tact the writ­ers at heng­weili@ chi­nadai­lyusa. com

Face­book, whose CEO said Mon­day is a tech com­pany, not a me­dia com­pany, has had some glitches re­cently with how its tech­nol­ogy side han­dles its me­dia side.

On Aug. 26, the world’s largest so­cial net­work fired the cu­ra­tors in its Trend­ing Top­ics sec­tion, which is seen by some 1.7 bil­lion ne­ti­zens each month. The Menlo Park, Cal­i­for­nia-based com­pany re­placed the hu­man team with an al­go­rithm.

The shift came about four months af­ter the site was ac­cused of sup­press­ing trend­ing con­ser­va­tive news sto­ries; Face­book de­nied it did so.

Over the week­end, the new au­to­mated mod­ule put out a bo­gus story about Fox News host Megyn Kelly; a piece about a co­me­dian’s ob­scen­ity­laden at­tack of con­ser­va­tive pun­dit Ann Coul­ter; and links to an ar­ti­cle about a video of a man do­ing some­thing crude with a chicken sand­wich, The Guardian re­ported.

The head­line about Kelly called her a “traitor” and claimed that the ca­ble chan­nel has “Kick[ed] her out for back­ing Hil­lary.” (That is not true.)

The Guardian re­ported the trend­ing news team was fired with­out no­tice in a meet­ing with a se­cu­rity guard present. The dis­missed work­ers got four weeks’ sev­er­ance pay.

Global busi­ness site Quartz. com re­ported that Face­book “un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously fired at least 15 ed­i­tors”. Tech blog Giz­modo.com first re­ported in May about Trend­ing Top­ics’ al­leged sup­pres­sion.

On Aug 26, Face­book posted a state­ment on its news­room. fb.com about the changes:

“Our 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.

“Ear­lier this year, we shared more in­for­ma­tion about Trend­ing in re­sponse to ques­tions about al­leged po­lit­i­cal bias in the prod­uct. We looked into these claims and found no ev­i­dence of sys­tem­atic bias. Still, mak­ing these changes to the prod­uct al­lows our team to make fewer in­di­vid­ual de­ci­sions about top­ics.”

An in­creas­ing num­ber of users are turn­ing to so­cial me­dia net­works, such as Face­book and Twit­ter to find their news, but Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg said his firm had no am­bi­tions to be­come a con­tent provider.

“No, we are a tech com­pany, not a me­dia com­pany,” said Zucker­berg, af­ter a young per­son asked him in Italy on Mon­day whether Face­book in­tended to be­come a news site.

While ac­knowl­edg­ing the role Face­book has in sup­ply­ing users with news through their con­nec­tions and stress­ing the advantages of ob­tain­ing in­for­ma­tion from dif­fer­ent parts of the globe, Zucker­berg said Face­book was “a tech­nol­ogy com­pany, we build the tools, we do not pro­duce any con­tent”.

“The world needs news com­pa­nies, but also tech­nol­ogy plat­forms, like what we do, and we take our role in this very se­ri­ously,” he said at Luiss Univer­sity in Rome.

Ear­lier on Mon­day, Zucker­berg and his wife Priscilla Chan had a pri­vate au­di­ence with Pope Fran­cis. It was the lat­est in a string of meet­ings the pon­tiff has held with Sil­i­con Val­ley lead­ers, in­clud­ing Ap­ple CEO Tim Cook and Al­pha­bet Ex­ec­u­tive Chair­man Eric Sch­midt.

Zucker­berg said he gave the Ar­gen­tine pon­tiff a model of Aquila, Face­book’s light­weight so­lar-pow­ered drone aimed at beam­ing lasers to ex­tend in­ter­net ac­cess to places that have yet to be con­nected.

“We ... dis­cussed the im­por­tance of con­nect­ing peo­ple, es­pe­cially in parts of the world with­out in­ter­net ac­cess,” Zucker­berg posted on his per­sonal Face­book pro­file af­ter the meet­ing.

Our goal is to en­able Trend­ing for as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble.”

STEPHEN LAM / REUTERS

Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg is seen on stage dur­ing a town hall at Face­book’s head­quar­ters in Menlo Park, Cal­i­for­nia in Septem­ber 2015.

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