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In battle with X, Threads gets trending topics where politics will be allowed

After acknowledging last week that Meta’s X competitor Threads would not actively recommend political content, the company today announced a test of a new trends feature, “topics,” where such content could potentially surface anyway. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on Monday that Threads would begin a small test of the feature, initially in the U.S., to help users find “timely topics” that others are discussing on the social network.

Today’s topics, as the section will be titled, are determined by Meta’s AI systems and are based on what people are engaging with on Threads, Meta told TechCrunch. These topics will be surfaced in the app in two places: on the Search page and in the For You feed.

The machine learning algorithm will take into account a variety of signals, including how many people are talking about a given topic and how many people have engaged with posts on that same topic. Meta says its team of content specialists will ensure the topics aren’t in violation of the site’s Community Guidelines and “other applicable integrity guidelines.” It also said that Meta’s team would check to ensure that there aren’t duplicate topics and that the topics featured aren’t “nonsensical or misleading.”

In addition, users will be able to flag potentially problematic content in the case that a topic surfaces that violates guidelines but isn’t immediately caught by the site’s moderators.

Of course, what we wanted to know was whether or not Meta would suppress political content within topics, given it had proclaimed last week that it would no longer recommend political content across recommendation surfaces on Instagram and Threads. That change impacts areas like Instagram Reels and Instagram Explore, as well as the In-Feed Recommendations across both Instagram and Threads, the company explained at the time.

Meta tells us it will not suppress politically-themed topics, however.

“Political content can be a topic,” a rep for Meta said. “We will only remove political topics if they violate our Community Guidelines or other applicable integrity policies. Today’s topics aim to reflect timely, relevant topics in the app, and are not personalized recommendations,” they explained.

In other words, because topics are determined by algorithms, but aren’t individualized to the end users, they don’t get swept up in Threads’ political content purge from recommendations.

The feature could make Threads more competitive with its rival X, formerly Twitter, as it would help users to seek out timely conversations and debates taking place on the platform, which could give the app a more real-time feel — something it’s been lacking. It remains to be seen how much human oversight will be directed toward the topics section, which Meta could either fully curate or largely leave up to an algorithm.

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