Facebook will hire a “small team” of journalists to select featured content for its much-hyped ‘News Tab’ section, which the platform will begin testing across its US user base later this year.
What could go awry with human editors in charge? Facebook should know, since the company was forced to fire its last team of human content-pickers over revelations of bias against conservative viewpoints.
The platform said Tuesday that the new team — which will likely be fewer than 10 employees at the beginning — will choose the content for the ‘Top News’ section of the News Tab. Stories found in the other sections will be chosen by algorithms and determined by specific user interests, the New York Times reported.
Facebook said it made the decision to go after human curators after discussions with publishers convinced them that algorithms would not be capable of “news judgement” the way real journalists would and that it would take too long to train an algorithm to that level.
But there are pitfalls to consider with human editors, too. Facebook ditched its ‘Trending Topics’ section last year after being plagued by accusations that it was politically biased and amplified “fake news.”
An explosive Gizmodo story put the spotlight on Trending Topics in 2016, revealing that human editors, independently contracted by Facebook, were asked to suppress conservative news and even stories about Facebook itself.
The contractors were also told to artificially “inject” preferred stories into the trending module, even if they were not trending organically. Rather than relying on algorithms (as it claimed), Facebook was acting like a traditional news organization and reflecting the personal biases of its employees.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that Facebook is planning to pay publishers “millions of dollars” to include their content in its News Tab.
A source told Digiday that the new batch of curators will be given the option to include that content in the Top News section, but they will not be obliged to. The new hires will be full-time employees, unlike the contractors used for the doomed Trending Topics section.
As Facebook rolls out the News Tab, users will no doubt be waiting to see if it has learned its lesson after the last debacle.