You’re vulnerable to bias and polarization if you only get your news from one source. So instead of highlighting a single news outlet when you click through to a Trending topic, Facebook will now show a carousel of the other most popular articles written about the subject by different publishers.
Meanwhile, Facebook is giving more exposure to Trending Topics on mobile. Rather than only show Trending topics in the drop-down when you go to search for something on Facebook’s mobile app, the company will test showing a box with the top three current Trending topics inside the News Feed. This way people will more likely discover Trending content on mobile when previously it was buried in an unintuitive spot.
Facebook tells TechCrunch that the Trending sources carousel isn’t personalized to purposefully show you publishers you don’t follow or that might have a contrasting view point to what you typically click and share. But by swiping through to different news sources that you don’t follow, the company says it could show you different view points on the same topic.
Of course that could backfire by showing you more biased sources than you’d normally read. Not every fact needs an “alternative” take. That can lead to misguided hot takes and senseless contrarianism. Facebook will have to keep an algorithmic eye on what publishers it shows in these carousels.
Since Trump was elected, Facebook has been criticized for widening the political divide in America. Instead of more generalist media, the News Feed allows people to create their own newspaper from the sources they prefer. But if someone is lured into following biased or sensational sources, and surrounds themselves with friends who do the same along the same political pole, they can have misinformed views reinforced.
Facebook tests a way to follow topics rather than specific publishers
Mark Zuckerberg likes to cite a study by Facebook from 2015 that showed 23 percent of users’ friends are of the opposite political affiliation, while almost 29 percent of stories in the News Feed display views that disagree with a user’s ideology. But having 70%+ of your feed stoking your existing beliefs can still be problematic. In Zuckerberg’s humanitarian manifesto, he wrote that one solution was “to show a range of perspectives, let people see where their views are on a spectrum and come to a conclusion on what they think is right.”
Facebook recently tried another approach to deflating these filter bubbles by letting people follow a topic and then see posts from a variety of publishers about it instead of just following individual publishers. Today’s update furthers that effort. Even if Facebook doesn’t truly believe filter bubbles are a massive problem, it needs the News Feed to be perceived as a positive fountainhead of information to stay at the center of people’s web browsing habits.