Facebook isn't going to make you read a news article from an outlet you normally avoid. But it is going put the article on your screen.
The social network on Wednesday announced another change to the trending topics section that raised conservatives' ire last year, aiming "to make it easier to discover other publications that are covering the story."
In the latest redesign, coming first to the iPhone app, users will see a carousel of reports from multiple news outlets when they click on topics such as "Manchester arena bombing" or "Pope Francis," which were trending Wednesday afternoon. Articles from Fox News and HuffPost, Breitbart and BuzzFeed might appear side by side, with equal billing, providing a more rounded take on the news.
Right now, a click on a trending topic leads to a single, featured article selected by a Facebook algorithm. Reports from other news outlets on the same subject do appear on the page but are interspersed among posts composed by your college roommate and your uncle in Ohio.
"By making it easier to see what other news outlets are saying about each topic, we hope that people will feel more informed about the news in their region," Facebook product manager Ali Ahmadi and product designer John Angelo wrote in a post announcing the change.
This is a tiny puncture in the news bubble that Facebook tends to create for its users. While the formula that dictates what shows up in your news feed is secret and ever-evolving, it consistently favors content that aligns with your expressed beliefs and interests.
"What shows up in your news feed is based on the things that you like," Facebook's head of news partnerships, Campbell Brown, said during a Q&A at the Poynter Institute in March. "Things you share. People you're friends with and that you follow."
In other words, if you are a hard-core liberal, you are unlikely to encounter news from the National Review in your news feed.
Unlike your news feed, the trending topics section does not cater to your tastes. It displays news subjects garnering high interest among Facebook users in your region, whether you seem likely to be interested or not.
And, with the latest change to trending topics, you might be presented with a National Review report on whatever the buzziest subject of the day happens to be. You can ignore it, of course, and click on the Mother Jones version, instead. But you are probably more likely to check it out — and consider a different perspective — if it is right in front of you.
In their post, Ahmadi and Angelo noted "there is no predetermined list of publications that are eligible to appear" in the trending topics section — a point that seems designed to comfort conservatives who were outraged when Gizmodo reported last year that some Facebook workers who curated the trending topics allowed their own, mostly liberal political views to influence which stories qualified for promotion.
Facebook denied systemic bias but took several steps to boost confidence in its commitment to neutrality. It hosted a group of influential conservatives, many from the media, for a meeting with chief executive Mark Zuckerberg; introduced political bias training for employees; reduced the role of human editors; and even made a donation reportedly worth $120,000 to this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, after refusing to contribute the year before.
The Pew Research Center concluded in a 2014 study that "when it comes to getting news about politics and government, liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds. There is little overlap in the news sources they turn to and trust."
Users might continue to block out sources that challenge their worldviews, but they are more likely to be exposed to such sources in Facebook's revamped trending topics section.