Facebook Pulls 9/11 Anniversary Topic after Promoting Conspiracy Article

September 10, 2016, 4:38 PM UTC
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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pauses as he delivers a keynote address during the Facebook f8 conference on September 22, 2011 in San Francisco, California. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg kicked off the conference introducing a Timeline feature to the popular social network. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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In the latest misstep attributed to its newly-automated Trending Topics feed, Facebook pulled a topic dedicated to the anniversary of September 11th after an article appearing to support ‘Truther’ conspiracy theories topped the feed. The article, from the UK’s Daily Star, claimed to feature “footage that ‘proves bombs were planted in the Twin Towers.’”

It is a long-held suspicion among some conspiracy theorists that, in the lingo, “9/11 Was an Inside Job”, and the proliferation of specious videos and articles on the topic may be the cardinal case of the power of the internet and social media to distribute dubious information along with the good stuff. A Facebook representative speaking to the Washington Post Friday called the article a “hoax,” and said that “as a temporary step to resolving this we’ve removed the topic.”

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The anniversary of 9/11 still hasn’t returned to this author’s Facebook news feed, even though there are presumably people talking about it on the internet today.

The incident is just the latest misstep following Facebook’s transition from human news curators to an automated system. The initial motive for the move seems to have been to blunt accusations of bias against the curation team. More broadly, the company is working to position itself as, in CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s words, ‘a technology company, not a media company.’

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But in the weeks since the switch, the algorithm has proven to have its own problems. It has promoted a series of deceptive or hoax articles, as well as disturbing homemade pornography.

Though Facebook is presumably refining its technology, the take-home so far is clear. Facebook may not want to be a media company, but they still can’t automate basic human common sense.

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