Further acknowledging its role as a media company, the Facebook Trending feature may become a better guide to genuine, legitimate news.
It’s a relatively small part of the Facebook real estate as users go daily to the site or app but it’s an important one. Admit it, we all look at Trending to see what news is posted there and a majority of Facebook users in America – which is the majority of online Americans – are prone to click on one or more links to see the rest of the story behind the headline.
Facebook promised January 26 to improve the Trending feature, to make it reflect (perhaps) more genuine news from legitimate news organizations while decreasing individual topics based on what what’s popular and – most important – trying to eliminate the fake stories and outright lies posted around the vast internet.
If Facebook lives up to its promises, the Trending feature should become a more legitimate news compilation and less prone to the far-too-frequent delusions of crowd rabble. (Irony not overlooked here.)
“Previously, topics may have trended due to high engagement on Facebook around a single post or article,” explained Will Cathcart, Facebook’s vice-president of product management. “With today’s update, we will now look at the number of publishers that are posting articles on Facebook about the same topic, and the engagement around that group of articles. This should surface trending topics quicker, be more effective at capturing a broader range of news and events from around the world and also help ensure that trending topics reflect real world events being covered by multiple news outlets.”
While it seems like a minor adjustment on the surface it’s an important one because data collected by the Pew Research Center for Internet, Science & Technology over the past year suggests 62 percent of all Americans are getting at least some of their news from the social media and 68 percent of all Americans use Facebook on a daily basis. Two-thirds of those American Facebookers read what is represented as news on the world’s largest social media network.
The spread of what’s called “fake news” – lies dressed up to look like real news by websites promoting propaganda – has become a serious internet problem and is blamed for massive misunderstanding of real events and issues by the general public. Propaganda, as is one of its primary purposes, makes us all less informed, dumber and more susceptible to demagogues.
“In order to provide people with more context on what is trending on Facebook, we will now display a headline from a publisher’s article about that topic,” Facebook’s Cathcart posted. “This was the most requested feature addition since the last update we made to Trending in August. These are the same headlines that appear when you hover over or click on a Trending topic, but people told us they wanted these headlines directly within Trending, too.”
Perhaps the biggest adjustment Facebook will make will be to ranking what appears in the Trending section by region rather than by an individual user’s preferences as expressed by clicks on stories which have appeared in the user’s News Feed.
“The list of which topics are trending on Facebook will no longer be personalized based on someone’s interests,” Cathcart wrote. “Everyone in the same region will see the same topics. This is designed to help make sure people don’t miss important topics being discussed on Facebook that might not show up in their News Feed.”
This change is critically important to transforming the Trending section into a compilation of legitimate news because it will give the feature greater weight, greater gravitas.
It should also elevate the status of the feature in importance as a news source, something Facebook “likes.”
Facebook stiffens, adds to your account security
While offering two-step authentication for a while now, Facebook announced January 26 it’s going another step – a physical step – toward greater account security for users: a physical key.
Well, for Chrome or Opera browser users.
“Starting today, you can register a physical security key to your account so that the next time you log in after enabling login approvals, you’ll simply tap a small hardware device that goes in the USB drive of your computer,” said Facebook in a post going out to all users (we assume, at least those with Chrome or Opera browers). “Security keys can be purchased through companies like Yubico, and the keys support the open Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) standard hosted by the FIDO Alliance.
“Security keys for Facebook logins currently only work with certain web browsers and mobile devices, so we’ll ask you to also register an additional login approval method, such as your mobile phone or Code Generator. To add a security key from your computer, you’ll need to be using the latest version of Chrome or Opera. At this time we don’t support security key logins for our mobile Facebook app, but if you have an NFC-capable Android device with the latest version of Chrome and Google Authenticator installed, you can use an NFC-capable key to log in from our mobile website.”