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Facebook set to overhaul its controversial 'Trending Topics'

Facebook set to overhaul its controversial Trending Topics

New York: Reiterating that an internal investigation revealed no evidence of systematic political bias in the selection or prominence of stories in its "Trending Topics" feature, Facebook is set to revamp the controversial feature in response to a Senate inquiry into allegations of an editorial bias against conservative news organisations.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Colin Stretch, Facebook General Counsel said the social networking giant has sent John Thune, Chairman of the US Senate Commerce Committee, a follow-up letter setting out its findings and conclusions.

While "our data analysis indicated that conservative and liberal topics are approved as trending topics at virtually identical rates, at the same time, our investigation could not fully exclude the possibility of isolated improper actions or unintentional bias in the implementation of our guidelines or policies," Stretch posted.

"As part of our commitment to continually improve our products and to minimise risks where human judgment is involved, we are making a number of improvements to Trending Topics," he added.

The revamping includes an updated terminology in its guidelines to make them more clear and a refresher training for all reviewers that emphasises that content decisions may not be made on the basis of politics or ideology.

We will also have additional controls and oversight around the review team, including robust escalation procedures," the post read.

A report in technology website Gizmodo recently accused Facebook of an editorial bias against conservative news organisations, sparking sharp reactions from across the spectrum.

"We will no longer rely on lists of external websites and news outlets to identify, validate or assess the importance of particular topics. This means we will eliminate the "Media 1K" list, the list of RSS feeds used to supplement the algorithm that generates potential trending topics, and the top-10 list of news outlets," Stretch announced.

"We are also removing the ability to assign an "importance levela to a topic through assessment of the topic's prominence on the top-10 list of news outlets and will expand our help centre content on Trending Topics to provide more information about this feature and how it works," Facebook added.

"Trending Topics" was launched in 2014 to surface major conversations happening on Facebook.

It appears on right-hand side on desktop as well as when you tap on the search box in the mobile app and primarily for people using Facebook in English (there are limited tests being run in Spanish and Portuguese).

"Suppressing political content or preventing people from seeing what matters most to them is directly contrary to our mission. We are proud of the platform and community we have created, and it is important to us that Facebook continues to be a platform for all ideas," Stretch pointed out.

Facebook will continue to work to improve the feature, as well as to seek feedback from people who use the service to make sure Facebook remains a platform for all ideas, he said.

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