On Friday, Facebook announced changes to its method of picking trending news stories to put on the front page of people's feeds. It's taking humans out of the equation and using algorithms instead – and the results were not pretty.
Facebook's Trending news section is part of Mark Zuckerberg's plan to make the social network the world's newspaper. Initially the system was run by former journalists, but after accusations of anti-conservative bias, Facebook has changed its story-picking system repeatedly, and on Friday went much more digital.
"Our goal is to enable Trending for as many people as possible, which would be hard to do if we relied solely on summarizing topics by hand," the company said in a blog post.
"A more algorithmically driven process allows us to scale Trending to cover more topics and make it available to more people globally over time. This is something we always hoped to do, but we are making these changes sooner given the feedback we got from the Facebook community earlier this year."
The feedback from the new changes won't be good, based on some of the stories Facebook has been recommending. Over the weekend, one of the top stories was a false tale about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly being outed as a closet liberal who was going to be booted from her job on the right-wing network.
The article, which was completely wrong and so poorly sub-edited that it misspelt Kelly's surname, was nevertheless picked up by Facebook and spread around the world. It got over 200,000 likes.
Facebook *just* took humans out of the loop and the algorithm is already amplifying misinformation - not good https://t.co/qRB6nJEyfZ— Brendan Nyhan (@BrendanNyhan) August 29, 2016
Rather more damaging to Facebook's reputation for AI-picked news was another trending topic, after the algorithm spotted that #McChicken was turning up on a lot of social media feeds. But it didn't determine why.
The hashtag was trending because an unnamed individual (who is in need of serious psychiatric help) filmed himself taking McDonald's slogan of "I'm lovin' it" a bit too seriously and apparently enjoying an intimate and vigorous relationship with a fast-food sandwich (NSFW video here).
It's clear Facebook has a long way to go before it can entirely trust its software to pick news stories, or even stories that are real news. ®