Facebook’s redesigned Trending Topics section, now dubbed Trending News, is widely available on mobile for iPhone and Android users in the US, giving users a central location for all of the company’s aggregation efforts after a tumultuous year of changes to how Facebook handles journalism. The announcement of a redesign came back in May, when Facebook revealed a new look for its news section that focused more on offering a wider range of publications and giving users something that appeared less partisan.
Now, when you tap on the Trending News button, which has its own dedicated placement in the main navigation bar (only on iOS for now), you’ll get a numbered list of stories ordered by how many likes, comments, and shares the topic is getting across the app. Tapping on any one subject, like the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, will reveal a carousel of stories from different outlets, as well as videos, photos, and posts from prominent celebrities and other public pages.
Facebook says it does not control which publications show up or which stories appear, ordering the list only by factors like “the engagement around the article on Facebook, the engagement around the publisher overall, and whether other articles are linking to it,” the company explained back in May. (It’s currently unclear how Facebook plans to prevent fake news, hoaxes, and misleading stories from hyper-partisan pages from dominating the list without human editors.) Because the list remains buried in Facebook’s ever-expanding “more” tab where it runs the risk of getting lost in the noise, the company is also testing taking the top three stories in the trending list and pinning them to the top of the News Feed.
These changes are a sensible, more cleanly designed, and much needed centralization to how Facebook handles news, but they’re also a response to a year of missteps and fumbles. Facebook become embroiled in a heated controversy last summer after a Gizmodo article quoted a former member of the company’s news team saying Facebook’s Trending section was driven by a liberal bias. This launched a months-long process of major changes to how Facebook handles news, including the laying off of the editorial team behind the product and changes to how headlines and descriptions are generated and how stories and publications are selected.
Now, Facebook’s product is a much more benign and watered-down news aggregator, mainly because it is devoid of human input. But it does conveniently help cut down on criticism that Facebook is susceptible to partisan bias, a concern that only grows larger as the company becomes a more influential and far-reaching source in the news diet of its more than 2 billion monthly active users around the world.