Pizzagate, voter fraud, and the dangerous delusion that climate change doesn’t exist might slowly start to ooze out of your Facebook Newsfeed, thanks to a set of sweeping changes to the Trending Topics section Facebook released on Wednesday afternoon to help combat fake news.
The changes consist of three substantive differences between the old experience and the new one. The first is within the Trending topics feed. Now, when a topic shows up in the Trending panel, Facebook will automatically include the name of one published headline relating to the topic. This, according to Facebook, was “the most requested feature addition since the last update.”
The second change is being made to the method by which Facebook identifies a topic as “trending.” In past, Facebook has simply relied on engagement numbers with a single article. A more complex evaluation system is now being introduced. Facebook will “look at the number of publishers that are posting articles on Facebook about the same topic,” and then factor in the engagement with these multiple articles on that same topic. This change is designed to better ensure the veracity of information and to prevent a single, runaway fake news story from having all of the clicks and none of the facts.
Thirdly, Facebook is changing its personalization function. Instead of being filtered based on the interests of each individual user, trending topics will be uniform across a given region of users. This is theory will reduce the amount of informational isolation that has been affecting some users and which creates the ideal environment for fake news to take root without being challenged.
Fake news has been accused of impeding climate change action and of distorting public narratives about policy and politics. It is only ever harmful and, thankfully, these changes should largely reduce its presence on Facebook.
The multi-story verification system will ensure that the content people see is credible. The regional organization of Trending topics will begin to expose people to information and articles that may not always align with their own views, and hopefully make users less willing to rapidly share and propagate a fake news story that looks or feel true to them.