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Robots don't run Facebook's trending stories, yet

And that's good!

Mark Zuckerberg via Facebook
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Good story from Gizmodo today about the people who helped run Facebook's "trending" stories section.

Weird reaction from the Twittersphere (at least my version of the Twittersphere).

Gizmodo interviewed former contractors who curated Facebook's sort-of-news section. The takeaway:

  • One former curator said other curators were biased against stories about "conservative" topics, like "Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck."
  • Some former curators said Facebook managers would routinely "inject" stories they thought were important, but weren't getting organic pickup from Facebook users.

In other words: The human beings Facebook paid to curate the site were human beings, who curated the site.

Which is useful to know! But not shocking. The man-biting-dog part would be if Facebook's curators had no bias at all and never nudged the social network's machine-generated output one way or another.

According to my version of the Twittersphere, the Gizmodo story is supposed to unmask a lie that Facebook's trending stories are a dispassionate survey of Facebook popularity, period. But if that's all Facebook was trying to do, it wouldn't need human beings to help it pick stories.

Which is what Facebook is hoping to do, one day.

Meantime, I hope its humans + robot team gets better at picking trending stories for me, because right now they seem to rely on a feedback loop that overindexes whatever I clicked on last: I may have clicked on a story about "Saturday Night Live" last week, but I don't care about it today.

More bias, please.

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