All posts in “News”

Facebook is rolling out a Trending News section on mobile, now with its own link


Facebook is rolling out a “Trending News” section on mobile that includes its own link in the app’s main navigation. This follows the company’s earlier announcement this spring of a redesign for Trending Topics, an increasingly important part of Facebook’s social network, where it tracks the news stories that are buzzing across its service. That redesign is now rolling out to users on iPhone and Android devices in the U.S., while the added navigational link to Trending News became available on iPhone over the past few weeks, and is in testing on Android, Facebook tells us.

In case you missed Facebook’s announcement in May, the Trending Topics section was redesigned with a focus on making it easier to see how other publications are covering a topic, in addition to what friends and public figures are saying about the matter.

When you click into a Trending Topic following the update, Facebook explained you will see a carousel of stories from other publications that you swipe through horizontally.

The publications linked to in this section are determined by engagement around both the article and publisher in general on Facebook, as well as what other articles are linking to it.

This card-style carousel look-and-feel was inspired in part by Facebook Paper, the company’s long since shuttered standalone news reading app.

This carousel is still in the process of rolling out across the U.S.

However, one aspect to Trending’s makeover that wasn’t really touched on during Facebook’s earlier announcement was how Facebook was toying with a redesigned list of news stories that focused on headlines, not just “trending topics.”

The original look for Facebook’s Trending Topics – which you pull up with a tap into the app’s search box – is a simple list of topics and the beginning of a lede that’s usually cut off. These appear below your own recent Facebook searches in the app.

However, if you access the new Trending News link that’s just popped up in Facebook’s navigation menu, you’ll see an entirely different sort of Trending section.

Above: Old Trending on left vs New Trending on right

Instead of a “topic” (often just a word, person or place, like “China” or “Donald Trump”) and squiggly arrow icon, the news stories here include a headline, a photo, the name of a major media outlet that’s reporting it, and how many other sources are available on the topic.

For example, next to the headline, it might say: “Reuters and 100+ other sources.”

Plus, by adding the photo next to each item, there’s more room for expanded information – that is, a full headline and sourcing.

The new section also gives stories a rank (#1, #2, #3,…etc.)

Facebook’s prior announcement in May didn’t specifically detail how this Trending News section looked different from Trending Topics.

Frankly, it’s all a bit confusing, because Trending Topics and Trending News don’t seem to be tied directly together at this point. For example, you could have the link to Trending News in your app’s main navigation, but still not have the new look for Trending Topics, which includes the carousel redesign.

However, in that same post, we did get a little peek at Trending News – but it was referenced as being a part of a “small test.”

Trending integration in News Feed still a “small test”

Facebook said then it was testing adding the top three Trending News stories to users’ News Feeds. In a screenshot of this, you were able see this list of stories with photos that were ranked by numbers, as well as stories identified by headlines instead of just “topics.”

This integration of a “mini” Trending News section into News Feed is not broadly available. That remains a “small test,” we understand.

But the addition of the Trending News link to Facebook’s navigation is already live on iPhone, and being trialed on Android.

Of course, any changes Facebook makes to Trending are sure to met with a lot of scrutiny. The company last year faced criticism when it removed its human editors who curated this section, to run Trending by way of algorithms instead. (And those algorithms soon screwed up.) The social network has more recently made several changes to address the spread of fake news and filter bubbles, as well.

In this case, though, Facebook is not monkeying with how news is selected as “Trending,” only how it’s being displayed.

The new Trending News section joins a number of other new additions to Facebook’s main navigation as of late, including the food ordering option, Town Hall, weather, the Explore feed, and more. Not all these additions have stuck around – the new travel-focused City Guides section, for instance, has since disappeared.

Google just launched a GIF maker to make your data look better

Google wants to help make your research look better.

To help journalists share their research and tell stories in a more visual and appealing way, Google just launched Data GIF Maker, a data visualization creator.

“Data visualizations are an essential storytelling tool in journalism, and though they are often intricate, they don’t have to be complex,” Google wrote in their announcement. ” In fact, with the growth of mobile devices as a primary method of consuming news, data visualizations can be simple images formatted for the device they appear on.”

The project came out of Google’s News Lab, an initiative to support journalists and storytelling. The lab also created the popular Google Trends project.

To make a data gif with Google’s new tool, simply add two terms, their titles, and an additional description (for our test, we used data from a 2014 study about how people pronounce internet terms): 

Image: google

The tool will then generate a handy gif like this:

Image: google

Right now the tool is very basic and currently supports comparisons between only two data points, meaning it’s not the best fit for complex data and comparisons. But for simple visualizations, Data Gif Maker is extremely easy to use. By adding some color and animation, journalists can make the research they’re trying to share a lot easier and more pleasant to consume, rather than listing the same information in text.

The tool is free to use and you can try it here.

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Twitter news video will appear 24/7, thanks to Bloomberg

All day, everyday.
All day, everyday.

Image: bloomberg via getty images

Twitter is now a 24/7 streaming video service, beginning with financial news. 

Bloomberg, the finance news site with a wealth of funds from terminals, has agreed to produce exclusive video content for Twitter that will play 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. 

The announcement comes just ahead of Twitter’s first-ever NewFronts, where the tech company will pitch advertisers on a slate of original programming they can advertise within for the upcoming year. 

The deal also landed just after a quarterly earnings report delighted investors and analysts because of its surprise surpassing of expectations. Twitter had added 9 million monthly active users, while analysts had expected only 2 million, for example. 

So what’s going to appear? Details are scarce. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. But there will be ads. 

“It is going to be focused on the most important news for an intelligent audience around the globe and it’s going to be broader in focus than our existing network,” Bloomberg Media CEO Justin Smith told the Journal

It’s Twitter’s dream come true; that a global news site would agree to produce exclusive content, every second of every day for Twitter. Investors were worried after Twitter lost out to Amazon on the digital rights to NFL’s Thursday night football. 

Anthony Noto, Twitter’s chief operating officer and chief financial officer, has previously teased to some outlets that he was interested in making the company a 24/7 streaming video site. 

Well, goal accomplished, Noto. What’s next? 

WATCH: This electric surfboard can move without the waves

Here’s how you create echo chambers on Facebook

Take it from the president of the United States: Human beings are creatures of comfort. We’re not particularly inclined to seek out contradictory information and would rather believe things that reinforce our worldview. 

Sometimes we post those things at 6 a.m. to make a point to our foes, even if our claims are fact-free. 

Most of the time, we pay a price for that willful ignorance, but researchers are on the brink of learning just how destructive those impulses can be when combined with the scale and power of Facebook. 

“People fall into groups where they reinforce their views and ignore dissenting views.”

We already know that people create echo chambers on the social media platform. A new study on how people consume news on Facebook shows how widespread those filter bubbles have become — and suggests that remedies for the spread of so-called fake news, like fact-checking and blacklisting offenders, won’t come close to fixing the problem. 

So blame the media and Facebook all you like for our dysfunctional politics and the collapse of bipartisanship, but the most formidable enemy appears to be human psychology. 

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at the news consumption patterns of 376 million users over a six-year period from January 2010 until December 2015. The researchers analyzed how those users engaged with 920 English-language local and global news sources, including outlets like the New York Times, Guardian, Huffington Post, Daily Caller and Associated Press. (The sample was based on a list compiled by the European Media Monitor, and included government agency and nonprofit sites as well as notable omissions, such as Breitbart, Buzzfeed, and yes, Mashable.)

Even with dozens of news sources at their fingertips, users typically engaged with just a handful of outlets by liking their pages and commenting on their posts. The researchers found that the more active people are on Facebook, the more they consume news in clusters, basically walling themselves off with a single community of news outlets. 

“People fall into groups where they reinforce their views and ignore dissenting views,” says Walter Quattrociocchi, a principal investigator of the research and head of the Laboratory of Computational Social Science at IMT Lucca in Italy. 

Quattrociocchi and his study co-authors did not try to gauge the politics of either the news outlets or the readers. Instead, they argue that polarization dominates news consumption on Facebook because highly active users engage with a limited number of outlets. This dynamic, the researchers say, probably plays a significant role in the way misinformation spreads, though they did not specifically track it in this study.  

Basically, Quattrociocchi says, users are searching for narratives, exhibiting what’s known in psychology as selective exposure: They tend to favor information that fortifies their pre-existing views and avoid outlets that might challenge those beliefs. 

This isn’t too surprising, says S. Shyam Sundar, founder of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Penn State University. Sundar was not affiliated with the new study.

“Communication researchers have long shown that media consumers are habitual in their usage patterns, often relying on the same set of news sources,” he wrote in an email. “We all have a repertoire of news outlets.” 

It’s also possible that Facebook users include ideologically different sources in their news reading habits, even if they only engage with a small number of outlets. 

“You look for the ideas [you agree with] and you refuse any kind of contact with something else.”

The difference in news consumption today, Quattrociocchi says, is that people now have access to countless publishers lacking journalistic credibility, and the power to immediately circulate questionable claims amongst dozens or hundreds of family and friends. 

Plus, 20 years ago, news outlets didn’t have to to compete against, for example, videos of kittens or vacation selfies, a dynamic the researchers note, and one that has created new incentives for publishers to present information in conversational or emotional terms. 

Facebook, Quattrociocchi says, has “destroyed the architecture of the media” and trying to stem the spread of so-called fake news is near-to-impossible because of how motivated people are to feel they’re right about the state of the world.

“Most of the proposals are related to debunking and fact checking,” says Quattrociocchi. “But the problem behind fake news and misinformation is the polarization of users. You look for the ideas [you agree with] and you refuse any kind of contact with something else.”

Sundar isn’t convinced of this claim, noting that it’s not supported by the study’s data: “We do not know if displaying warnings about disputed facts (as Facebook has just started to do) or showing fact-checked certifications on Facebook news feeds will be effective in stemming misinformation.” 

Nevertheless, Facebook seems to understand the echo chamber problem, and has arguably contributed to it by employing algorithms that haven’t frequently shown users links to news sources they may find disagreeable. Indeed, the more comfortable you feel on Facebook, the more likely you are to return. There’s little incentive for the company to make people squirm by positioning provocative news outlets high in their feeds for every visit.

“People will not exit the echo chamber. The problem is how we enter.” 

Even Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, gets that echo chambers on the platform wreak havoc on public discourse. In a recent post, his vision of an “informed community” on Facebook included tamping down on sensationalism and polarization. 

The company, for instance, had noticed that some people shared content with sensational headlines but had never actually read the story. The algorithm, it appears, will now take “signals” like that into account in order to both reduce “sensationalism” in people’s news feeds and identify the publishers responsible for that content. Facebook also recently rolled out tools to help users identify and dispute fake news items.  

Quattrociocchi, however, isn’t optimistic that fact-checking and debunking mechanisms will make a difference when it comes to believing and sharing conspiracy theories and falsehoods. 

“People will not exit the echo chamber,” he says. “The problem is how we enter.” 

Though third-party apps and browser extensions to burst filter bubbles have cropped up since the election, those require a lot of work for people who are mostly content inside their clusters. Quattrociocchi says that even being aware of your self-made Facebook echo chamber is an important first step, but he believes it’s up to companies and researchers to better understand people’s news consumption habits and reach them where they’re at. 

Quattrociocchi is currently exploring the cognitive and psychological traits that drive people to consume certain news narratives. One possibility, he says, is that the impersonal nature of online news sharing lowers personal accountability, making it easier to post and believe fake news. He also wants to test whether social media platforms create a kind of narcissistic distortion, influencing how people present themselves online. 

Regardless of what he finds, the message is becoming clearer: The problem with fake news has a lot more to do with our own psychology than we’d like to admit. 

UPDATE: March 6, 2017, 2:21 p.m. PST This story was updated to include comments from S. Shyam Sundar. 

This email newsletter is required reading for the resistance in Trump’s America

The newsletter has tens of thousands of subscribers already.
The newsletter has tens of thousands of subscribers already.

Image: Machado Noa/REX/Shutterstock

After just three weeks with Donald Trump in office it’s hard to keep track of his tweets, appointments, executive orders and latest conflicts of interest

But a daily email newsletter has emerged to help keep everyone’s heads from spinning off trying to keep up. Most importantly it answers the perpetual question of “WTF just happened today?”

And it’s called just that: What the Fuck Just Happened Today.

What started as a blog post for Seattle-based product manager Matt Kiser to keep track of the latest antics of the Trump administration has turned into a daily newsletter with more than 43,000 subscribers.

Each issue is headlined with some word or phrase that summarizes the biggest political story of the day. On Wednesday the newsletter led with “Nevertheless, she persisted,” referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s reprimanding-turned-rallying cry. Kiser says the simple layout and easy-to-find information “helps squelch some of the outrage.”

“I had been struggling to keep up with the pace of news coming out,” Kiser said of his decision to create his small collection of daily political news stories. 

Kiser says he’s a bit overwhelmed that thousands of people are using his simple list of about 10 major news stories to stay informed about politics and the White House. He’s already at 2.5 million page views on the newsletter’s website for February.

The newsletter, which Kiser admits is not an original concept and is based on other successful newsletters like theSkimm, follows a pretty simple formula: What happened, what are the facts, who reported it and where can you get more information.

“It’s super difficult for anyone who is not a news junkie to feel informed or feel like the have any sense of what’s going on in the world,” he said.  

Selecting which stories and sources he includes on his list has become more of a challenge. Kiser said the newsletter “could be read as an antagonistic attack on Trump,” but he insisted he’s trying to take a “neutral-ish” position. 

To keep things balanced he’s trying to cite a “diversity of sources,” though he tends to lean on stories from the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the Guardian and other so-called mainstream liberal media. But no matter the source, “I’m not trying to offer commentary or opinion or analysis.”

Kiser knows the newsletter resonates with some people who are frustrated by an administration with a tenuous relationship to truth and accuracy. He said the newsletter is straight and to the point, which is helpful for people “starting to pay attention for the first time to politics,” new to activism and joining up with the #Resist movement

An organized list of news is like a balm to people who might be feeling “perpetually outraged,” Kiser said. Instead of being angry, reading and understanding the day-to-day developments “starts to put things in perspective.”

He said that the newsletter “fits more naturally from the resistance group,” but “I think it would be super cool if the alt-right got excited about this.”

All it takes is a click of the subscribe button to join the revolution.