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Archive for May, 2016

What’s NOT Trending on Facebook?

Posted by prof e on May 16, 2016

TrendingWell, for starters there’s less conservative news from conservative sources than one might expect. A recent report by Gizmodo reveals that the Trending feed on Facebook may be less objective than many thought. One might fairly assume that these are organic results based on what is popular and being shared on Facebook…and you would be partly right. But the revelation that has the media world talking is that insiders say that Facebook intentionally directs human curators to leave out conservative news and opinions while injecting other news stories that are not actually trending.

Now, just to be clear, we fully expect traditional news sources to make decisions regarding what is news worthy and which stories to place on the front page. This is standard practice and any debate about the ethics of this practice is only to the extent that the editorial policies of any given news organization are consistent and transparent. The objection here is that Facebook appeared to be suggesting that the Trending stories were simply the result of algorithms analyzing Facebook for popular results. But if that’s not the case, and Facebook is injecting some stories and holding others back, then there is a real problem that deserves a response.

Sure, the news industry has long been viewed as an uneven playing field where liberal voices have had an upper hand. More recently talk radio and Fox News tilted things back towards the other side. The rise of the internet was seen as a solution for the potential threat of big media controlling access to information. But if Facebook (or Apple, Google, Microsoft, or any other new media mega-corporation) is willing to inject their own biases into their products and platforms, the playing field will become a swamp where no one will dare to venture. This idea that platforms ought to be agnostic is at the very core of the argument in favor of Net Neutrality.

Social media is increasingly becoming a source of news. While mainstream news media (broadcast and cable TV, newspapers, and news magazines) struggle to remain relevant, social media has stepped up to offer bite-sized morsels of news for the highly-distracted audience. Facebook, Google, Snap Chat, and others have been competing for the attention of this audience.

The enormity of the power that can be deployed by a company the size of Facebook is staggering. Just a short time ago Facebook was caught manipulating the emotional state of its users by selectively posting content to their wall intended to make them feel certain emotions. An earlier experiment was designed to discover if manipulating a person’s news feed could make them more inclined to vote in an upcoming election. Now, imagine for a moment if that same persuasive power were exerted for one side or the other in an ideological or political contest.

In response to the allegations Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has denied the charges but has offered to meet with conservative leaders. That meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 18th and one of the conservative leaders who will meet with Zuckerberg is MCCNM alumnus Dana Perino, former White House Press Secretary.

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Posted in 1st amendment, ethics, interactive media, journalism, media industry, new media, politics, social media | 1 Comment »