In the wake of the recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a video appeared at the top of Youtube’s Trending tab claiming that one of the student protesters, David Hogg, was in fact an actor working on behalf of some politician to push gun control regulation. Unsurprisingly, Youtube and Facebook were criticized for promoting such horrific content through their Trending tabs. While each company promised to do more to improve the type of content that the Trending tab promotes, some feel that more extreme measures won’t change anything. As Issie Lapowsky writes for Wired, Trending is in a rough shape.
Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter all use a Trending tab as a way to keep interesting news constantly floating through their respective sites. This ensures that viewers who see said news will continue to use each service. The Trending tab relies on algorithms to promote topics that generate lots of conversation (or argumentation). But Lapowsky points out a critical fault of these algorithms: “… trending tools naturally drive the public consciousness toward topics of outrage; an outrageous topic trending only adds to the outrage”. In their current iterations, these Trending tabs serve as as easy targets for bots and other malicious users to spread hatred and lies online and be heard by millions of people around the world. While Lapowsky outlines numerous ways that Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter have stepped up their respective Trending departments, she stops short of arguing for the removal of the Trending tab altogether.
To remove the Trending tab would prevent the easy and unprotected proliferation of lies such as the David Hogg is an actor scam. The Trending tab is not an essential feature of any service. As users of social media we are capable of determining on our own what information is newsworthy. Since we already spend so much time using social media, it won’t hurt us to spend some of that time researching topics that we come across on other people’s feeds. The Trending tab does not reflect the interests of the many, it mostly serves as a sounding board for the few.