Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB)’s new Related Articles feature is ruffling more than a few feathers. However, as with everything the social network does, it says there’s a good reason for what happened. It’s the algorithm’s fault, apparently.
According to The Boston Globe, a story about Michelle Obama sparked a wildfire of controversy over the weekend. The actual story people were reading was about a 10-year-old girl who gave the first lady her father’s resume because he’s unemployed and in need of a job.
Risque content greets Facebook readers
The report in The Boston Globe states that a couple of the so-called “Related Articles” provided to readers of that Michelle Obama story were clearly nothing more but sensationalist articles of dubious (and probably false) authenticity. One of the stories claimed that a Secret Service officer found the president and the first lady having sex in the Oval Office. The other suggested article claimed that America’s first couple is considering divorce and that “Barack has lost all control of Michelle.” Sounds an awful lot like the headlines you see plastered across many the tabloids at grocery store checkouts.
It seems pretty clear that these articles contain false claims. Although a spokesperson for Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) did not defend the articles’ content, she did say algorithms are to blame for the appearance of the questionable articles on readers’ News Feeds. Facebook selects Related Articles using a mathematical equation which links words and popularity to determine which articles are shown in the section. The social network does not verify the content of the articles, according to a spokesperson, any more than it verifies the content of users’ status updates.
Critics call for Facebook to suspend Related Articles
Experts say Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) should find a way to make sure that the links in its Related Articles section contain legitimate news. Until the social network can, many believe it should suspend the feature so users who are caught unaware don’t end up believing something that isn’t true.
Emily Bell of Columbia Journalism School said Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) “really screwed up.” She says the social network shouldn’t be recommending stories like it did in the case of the story about Michelle Obama because it is spreading false information, which is a big problem.
Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) is trying to make itself appear to be a trusted source of news, but this is a huge step in the opposite direction. Last month, the company announced plans for its news service FB Newswire. The social network is partnering with Storyful on that service. Storyful has said it will vet stories before distributing them and plans to debunk “false stories and myths.” Clearly Facebook should be doing the same for its Related Articles section, although it isn’t.