Facebook really doesn’t want to be a media company. The social network announced this morning it’s removing its often controversial “Trending” section from its site next week, in order to make way for “future news experiences,” it says. These experiences include things like a dedicated section for news videos on its video hub Facebook Watch, a breaking news label publishers can use on their posts, and a dedicated section called “Today In” which connects people to news and information from local publishers in their city along with updates from local officials and organizations.
Over 80 news publishers are currently testing the “breaking news” label, which allows them to opt to flag their Instant Articles, mobile and web links, and Facebook Live video as breaking news, the company tells us.
Facebook says that the early results from this testing have led to a 4 percent lift in click-through rates, a 7 percent lift in Likes, and an 11 percent lift in shares. The product is still in what Facebook calls “alpha” testing, which indicates it’s very early days for this feature – an alpha test precedes a beta test, which itself is ahead of a public launch.
Meanwhile, the “Today In” feature is in testing in 33 U.S. cities across the U.S.
Facebook says publishers featured in this section are seeing an average of an 8 percent incremental increase in distribution – meaning outbound clicks.
The company didn’t provide a time frame for when Facebook’s news-focused video hub would go live, but said that “soon” 10 to 12 U.S. publishers will be launching news shows in Watch, focused on live coverage of breaking events, daily shows and weekly shows. These efforts will be funded by Facebook itself, the company said. However, the company declined to provide a list of publishers or details on the funding.
The changes arrive at a time when Facebook has been held accountable for allowing the spread of fake news across its network, and it has responded with a host of fake news-fighting features like fact checking, adding publisher context, the addition of related articles, shrinking fake news in the News Feed, and other initiatives.
However, the “Trending” section in particular has been a source of concern ever since the company fired its Trending editors, leaving the selection of stories to its algorithms. And, because algorithms are not perfect, they repeatedly goofed up, allowing fake news stories to spread across the network by highlighting factually inaccurate links that were going viral as well as other inappropriate content.
Even as Facebook addressed the issues around fake news, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stuck to his belief that Facebook itself is not a “media company”– something he’s been saying for years. When recently testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he insisted again that Facebook is a tech company.
“I consider us to be a technology company because the primary thing that we do is have engineers who write code and build product and services for other people,” he told Congress.
And in nearly the same breath, he then went on to admit that Facebook pays to “help produce content” – as it’s doing now with these new news videos.
It’s unusual for a site that’s used for search, like Facebook, to not manage a trending section. Google offers a whole suite of products around tracking trends, and Twitter offers trends, even down to a local level.
Facebook didn’t announce any plans to bring back Trending, or some version of it in the future.
Trending is being pulled from Facebook next week and it will also remove products and third-party partner integrations that rely on the Trends API, the company said.
“People tell us they want to stay informed about what is happening around them,” wrote Alex Hardiman, Head of News Products at Facebook, in an announcement. “We are committed to ensuring the news that people see on Facebook is high quality, and we’re investing in ways to better draw attention to breaking news when it matters most,” Hardiman said.