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