After an endless string of headaches and complaints, Facebook has decided to remove its Trending section from the website, a smart move that the company stresses will nonetheless not really affect you. The Trending module, if you recall, is the little box in the upper-right corner that featured news topics that were “trending” on Facebook, meaning that a considerable number of users had generated chatter about something in a recent period of time. Trending is shorthand for “this got a lot of attention very quickly.”
In a blog post this morning, Facebook’s head of news product Alex Hardiman writes, “We’ve seen that the way people consume news on Facebook is changing to be primarily on mobile and increasingly through news video. So we’re exploring new ways to help people stay informed about timely, breaking news that matters to them.” In place of Trending, Facebook is testing a breaking-news designation on links, and a “Today In” section that theoretically provides useful local news.
“Trending” has always been a nebulous term, and a near-useless metric for whether content is worthwhile and worth sharing. In 2016, Facebook got in hot water over reports that the Trending section’s editors were “suppressing” conservative news. (In reality, they were making decisions such as that the 2012 Benghazi controversy was not relevant to most of Facebook’s users years later.) Facebook then switched over to an automated approach that with noticeable regularity included hoax stories or failed to include widely known breaking news.
But, not to worry, Hardiman reminds us. The Trending section “was only available in five countries and accounted for less than 1.5% of clicks to news publishers on average.” Here’s the thing about these stats trying to downplay the feature’s reach: One of the five countries was the United States — arguably Facebook’s single-most important region — and 1.5 percent of anything on Facebook, measured against its world-shifting scale, is still a gargantuan amount.
Anyway, whatever, the good news is Facebook’s Trending section will be dead soon. Good riddance.