By Deepa Seetharaman
Facebook Inc. said Friday it is letting software almost entirely drive what appears in its "trending" feature, scaling back the human intervention that led to allegations of political bias earlier this year.
The social media giant said it is eliminating the descriptions that have typically accompanied the topics and headlines that appear in the "trending" feature, which is distinct from the Facebook news feed. Those descriptions were written by contract workers hired by Facebook called "news curators."
Now, instead of a story description, users will see just a hashtag or a topic and a tally of how many other are talking about that particular topic online based on original posts as well as articles and posts shared by users on the topic -- similar Twitter Inc.'s trends lists.
"Making these changes to the product allows our team to make fewer individual decisions about topics," Facebook said in a blog post.
The increased automation of the "trending" feed is a response to criticism, revealed in a May report by tech blog Gizmodo, that curators altered what appeared in the list for political reasons. Facebook denied bias but also acknowledged that its curators had more oversight over what appears in this feed than it previously disclosed. The company also said at the time it would revamp the feature to minimize the potential effects of individual biases.
The trending topics feed is set to the right of the news feed on Facebook's desktop page; it appears on the mobile app when a user taps the search bar. Facebook's algorithm selects topics for trending if a lot of people are talking about certain articles and photos, and if there is a sharp increase in popularity in a short period.
If users want to see what others are saying about a topic, they can hover over it or click to see more. They will see a description from a news article that Facebook says is automatically selected.
Users see different subjects in their trending feature depending on data Facebook has collected about them: their likes, location and other topics they have clicked on.
Facebook said there are still people involved in selecting what appears as a trending topic. Their job will be making sure that a topic deserves to "trend" by making sure is tied to a current news event, among other things. For example, usage of the hashtag #lunch spikes around lunchtime every day, but won't appear in this feature.
Facebook didn't say how many contractors would be affected by the change.
Write to Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com