Here’s why Facebook should take a more active role in better curation of ‘news’
Technology causes changes in way that their founders would never have imagined when they first conceived it. When Facebook first started in 2004, it was mainly created as a platform for friends to connect. Even when Facebook News Feed was created later in 2006, Facebook itself didn’t imagine that there will be more news for each individual to consume.
In fact, Facebook probably didn’t imagine that it will became the largest source of news consumption. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) found out that 50 per cent of all web users in 26 countries use social media for news, and Facebook is the most dominant at 44 per cent.
Trivial news led the rise of Facebook
News can be the trivial but personally important such as the wedding of a family member or the birth of a new child. News can also be major and important such as the US Presidential Election.
Facebook made its name in the online world by catering to the trivial yet personally important news of friends and family and gained a large following of users who depend it on major news.
The deluge of news means that Facebook is forced to filter the news that matters to its readers. The typical reader will be exasperated to read 100 news articles before finding the one article that matters to them. This might encourage users to switch to another social media platform.
Vietnam War, US Presidential elections and ‘Fake Zuckerberg Death’ show the reach of Facebook
Facebook’s ability to filter news coupled with its long reach made the social network into one of the most powerful media companies. The editor-in-chief of Norway’s largest newspaper called Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, the world’s most powerful editor in a nefarious manner with a front page news item.
This occurred after Facebook deleted a famous Vietnam War photo and suspended the profile of the Norwegian writer who posted it. Facebook should take these policies more seriously. While this sort of error can be easily rectified with an apology, there are other irreversible errors.
For instance, it has been suggested that Facebook had allowed fake news (e.g. Pope’s endorsement of Donald Trump) to surface on its website, which favoured President Elect Donald Trump. Mainstream Media, which reported factual news, favoured the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Fake news surged and overwhelmed factual news during the election period, which some argued led to Trump’s victory over Clinton. Putting aside policy choices and difference in temperament, there is another relevant digital argument that Trump relied more on social media than Clinton. Trump spent US$90 million on social media ads, which allowed users to interact with clicks and conversation compared to Clinton’s $30 million.
Clinton spent $200 million on television ads, which proved to be ineffective, as a significant portion of Americans have started to rely on social media more than traditional media. Therefore, the demise of the Clinton presidential aspiration can be attributed to her unwillingness to acknowledge the power of social media.
On a more humorous side, even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was not spared the fake news when he was announced dead prematurely at the young age of 32. I wonder if his wife, Priscilla Chan, saw the humour in this particular technical glitch.
All these controversies have a common underlying theme: flawed algorithms. Facebook is using algorithms to filter news rather than make editorial decisions after it had fired its human editors. These events show that Facebook is still adapting to its newly minted role as the most powerful media company in the world.
Facebook is now taking the issue of fake news seriously and would be working with journalists to solve these. The social media is finally taking its role as the most powerful media company seriously, after an initial denial, but it is clear that it has a long way to go.
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