What will catch the eye in Trending?
WASHINGTON: A single word change in Facebook Trending can determine whether millions bother to read the news therein.
Would you click “Tulsa, Okla.” or “Tulsa police shooting”? “Tax Foundation” or “Trump Tax Plan”? These examples surfaced during The Washington Post’s September audit of Trending topics, the Facebook feature that attempts to list the day’s most popular news. During work hours from August 31 to September 21, we logged every news story that trended on Facebook across four separate accounts.
Our findings should be taken as demonstrative, not conclusive, as Facebook personalises its trending module to each individual user.
Still, we found a range of naming conventions, all destined to influence the reach of their news articles. If only one in 20 US Facebook users received news from Trending, the feature would still command an audience of nearly 9.5 million.
Generally, Trending topics tend to have proper names. These typically correspond with the subject of their news story, but in some cases they do not: a viral comic about climate change trended, for instance, under the name of its author, Randall Munroe.
On September 20, an analysis of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s tax plan trended under “Tax Foundation”, a phrase almost guaranteed to repel mainstream interest.
Crime stories tend to get non-standard names: sometimes it’s the city where it happened; sometimes it’s a description of the crime.
Where Facebook previously had an editorial team tasked with rewriting vague or inaccurate topic names, power recently shifted to an algorithm. As Trending continues to evolve, the main challenge may be how to get “the system” to more perfectly predict the complex expectations of humans. – Washington Post