Social Media

Facebook’s Trending Bots Think 9/11 Was An Inside Job

A tabloid article purporting to have "proof" the Twin Towers were bought down by explosives made the trending bar.

Social Media
Getty Images
Sep 09, 2016 at 1:44 PM ET

Two weeks ago, Facebook gave the human beings who moderated its Trending Topics bar the boot, replacing them with bots for a “more algorithmically driven process.” Apparently, that process includes surfacing 9/11 conspiracy theories.

On Friday, many Facebook users saw “September 11th Anniversary” in their trending bar. This makes sense, as the 15th anniversary of the attack is in a few days. But the first article it linked to on the topic page — and the one that shows up when the reader’s cursor hovers over the link to that page — is a British tabloid that claims there is new footage showing the Twin Towers were brought down by a “controlled demolition.” This is a conspiracy theory perpetuated by so-called 9/11 “truthers” and dismissed by literally everyone else. Except, apparently, Facebook’s trending robots.

This isn’t the first time the bots have made a strange algorithmically driven choice about what to put in front of Facebook’s billions of users. Shortly after the human editors were laid off, a hoax article that falsely claimed Megyn Kelly had been fired from Fox News made the trending bar. Along with the 9/11 hoax article, other important trends in the news today according to Facebook’s bots include: a press release from an ultra-conservative and widely discredited group that claims doctors believe Hillary Clinton has serious health issues; and an article about a kid who jumped in a pool full of soda and Mentos that dates back to July 5.

A Facebook representative told Vocativ, “We’re aware a hoax article showed up there and as a temporary step to resolving this we’ve removed the topic.”

It’s been a busy morning for the social media platform. It is currently attracting worldwide outrage for censoring an iconic Vietnam War photo because one of the screaming, Napalm-doused children in it wasn’t wearing any clothes, thus violating its nudity policy.