Facebook's AI-Backed Trending News Feed Propagates 9/11 Hoax Stories

It looks as though Facebook still has some work to do with its Trending topics feature that's supposed to promote popular and relevant news stories from around the web. That's how it works in theory, anyway. In practice, Facebook's algorithm has struggled to discern between real and fake news articles, a point that was underscored when it recently directed users to a hoax tabloid article surrounding the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Conspiracy theories abound on the events of 9/11. This particular piece by The Daily Star feeds into the most popular among them, claiming there exists video evidence that "proves bombs were planted in Twin Towers" and that engineers and a "growing community of experts" collectively believe it was a "controlled demolition."


We’re aware a hoax article showed up there and as a temporary step to resolving this we’ve removed the topic," a Facebook spokeswoman told The Washington Post.

Just two weeks ago Facebook announced that it was retooling its Trending topics feature to rely more heavily on an algorithm. Facebook reckoned that by doing so, it could cover a larger number of topics and make them available to more people around the globe. But in scaling back human intervention, Facebook's algorithm has shown it's not yet ready to fly solo.

Prior to promoting the 9/11 article, Facebook last week highlighted a false news story about Megyn Kelly, a high profile journalist at Fox News. The article in question referred to Kelly as a "traitor" and claimed that the news agency kicked her out for "backing Hillary." Her contract with Fox News does expire next year, but at present, she still works for the news agency.

Facebook may want to rethink its mostly hands-off approach to Trending topics and news in general. It's not just fake news stories that mar the social experience, either. We were recently duped by a promoted article claiming that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension had been overturned. The article wasn't fake, but it was a year old and being recirculated like a current event.