According to a report from Mashable late last week, Facebook may be testing a new version of its controversial Trending Topics feed that eliminates human judgment from its story selection process altogether. Of course, this is the feature of the site that caused a political firestorm in May after Gizmodo reported that Facebook employees were deliberately suppressing conservative news stories.
A Mashable reporter first noticed that his Trending Stories feed had changed slightly, showing a series of keywords like “national rifle association Hillary Clinton” instead of the previous keyword headlines. And, in perhaps the biggest change, the new Trending Topics version replaced the one-sentence summary of the story with a number showing how many people are talking about a given story on Facebook.
Facebook declined to talk about the change in detail, but they did confirm that it’s testing changes.
“We routinely test small changes to our all of our products, and we’re now testing a new way to display Trending Topics in the right-side column of the web version of Facebook,” the site confirmed to Mashable. “In addition to simplified topic names, in this test we’re also displaying a count of the number of people who are talking about that topic on Facebook. This is testing to a small number of people in the U.S.”
Two weeks ago Facebook announced that it would provide political bias training to its employees, seemingly confirming that Facebook took the issue of censorship seriously. However, this latest feature test goes a step further, and suggests Facebook may want to fully automate its trending news in a style similar to Twitter — and take the decision to publish or not to publish out of potentially biased human hands.