Facebook is shutting down its ill-fated 'trending' news section after four years, a company executive told The Associated Press.
The company claims the tool is outdated and wasn't popular.
But the trending section also proved problematic in ways that would presage Facebook's later problems with fake news, political balance and the limitations of artificial intelligence in managing the messy human world.
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Facebook is testing a new feature called 'Breaking News.' Facebook says it's shutting down its ill-fated 'trending' news section after four years. The company is telling The Associated Press that the feature is outdated and wasn't popular, and that people didn't find it useful
When Facebook launched 'trending' in 2014 as a list of headlines to the side of the main news feed, it was a straightforward move to steal users from Twitter by giving them a quick look at the most popular news of the moment.
It fit nicely into CEO Mark Zuckerberg's pledge just a year earlier to make Facebook its users' 'personal newspaper.'
But that was then. 'Fake news' wasn't yet a popular term, and no foreign country had been accused of trying to influence the U.S. elections through social media.
Trending news that year included the death of Robin Williams, Ebola and the World Cup.
While Facebook is killing the trending section, it is testing new features, including a 'breaking news' label that publishers can add to stories to distinguish them from other chatter. Facebook also wants to make local news more prominent.
In an interview ahead of Friday's announcement, Facebook's head of news products, Alex Hardiman, said the company is still committed to breaking and real-time news.
But instead of having Facebook's moderators, human or otherwise, make editorial decisions, there's also been a subtle shift to let news organizations do so.
Up until January, Facebook prioritized material that its algorithms thought people would engage with through comments, 'likes' or other ways of showing interest.
But 33-year-old founder Mark Zuckerberg said earlier this year that he wants to change the focus to help users have 'more meaningful social interactions.'
The move follows his resolution in 2018 to 'fix' the site.
It is also in response to criticism that Facebook and its social media competitors reinforce users' views on social and political issues.
Critics say sites like Facebook lead to addictive viewing habits.
Zuckerberg cited research that suggests reading 'passively' on social media was damaging for people's mental health, while interacting proactively with friends was positive.
According to Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s New Feed boss, the changes means:Posts from friends and family now get more prominence that video, news, and other content from formal Facebook pages, such as companies and celebrities The number of comments on a post count more than the number of Likes Posts where people have spend the time to write lengthy comments are prioritized over those with only short comments While, news and video still appear in News