Just days after Facebook announced it was getting rid of all of its news curators, the site let a fraudulent story about Fox News moderator and Megyn Kelly rise to the top of its powerful trending news section, which can set the tone for whether a story or piece of content goes viral.
The phony news headline from Endingthefed.com read “BREAKING: Fox News Exposes Traitor Megyn Kelly, Kicks Her Out For Backing Hillary.” Journalists noticed the story trending Sunday night, calling it out as false. The story was taken down Monday morning.
Megyn Kelly is trending on Facebook for an article that has no basis in reality. pic.twitter.com/31f4ERnzHI
— Kyle Blaine (@kyletblaine) August 29, 2016
— Justin Green (@JGreenDC) August 29, 2016
But Kelly is still employed and her contract with Fox is expected to end next year, the Washington Post reported.
On Friday, Facebook unceremoniously fired its staff charged with curating the platform’s trending news section by writing headlines and summaries, and weeding out repetitive and irrelevant stories populated by an algorithm.
The move comes after Facebook was heavily criticized in May for political bias and allegedly suppressing conservative news. Following the controversy, Facebook released new guidelines for news curators and CEO Mark Zuckerberg held a private meeting with conservative legislators to ease worries.
Facebook maintains that the algorithm was always in control, a fact expected to be reinforced now that there’s no dedicated editorial staff. In a blog post announcing the change, Facebook noted that trending news topics, which effectively acts as the A1 section of the internet, would now show a simplified topic, such as a name Kanye West or a hashtag like #PhelpsFace, along with how many people are talking about it.
But that stripped down approach doesn’t seem to be working for Facebook’s status as a reliable news source. The number of people who use Facebook for news has jumped almost 20 percent since 2013, according to Pew Research. Six out of 10 adults get their news from social media and 67 percent of American adults get their news from Facebook, which translates to 44 percent of the U.S. population. Facebook has 1.71 billion users worldwide and about 62 percent stumble on news via Facebook while their doing other things online.
And after only a few days without human curators, Facebook has had two stories make the trending topics — the false report about Kelly and “news” of the McChicken, which is just an altered clip of the infamous American Pie movie scene where the pie is replaced with a McDonald’s sandwich. (If you search for “McChicken,” there is also a pornographic video of a person having sex with a sandwich that comes up. The American Pie video is what Facebook was linking to at the time of writing this.)
Facebook said in its blog post Friday that it would keep a team on board to tweak the algorithm as needed. If anything, the mishaps should remind Facebook that, even under the best circumstances and with the best intentions, technology is as biased — and flawed — as the humans who create it. Removing curators just makes that more clear.