Facebook users will be familiar with the sites “trending” page, typically featuring news. However, unlike many other websites, Facebook does not allow all material to flow naturally and rise to prominence in the news feed due to user interest. Rather, they utilize employees known as “news curators” who, true to their name, modify what can and, more importantly, what can not be seen by users. But these curators’ duties do not stop there, as recently, numerous former Facebook employees have broken their silence surrounding a series of rather dubious practices conducted by the social media behemoth.
First and foremost amongst these is the practice of injecting news stories into trending news feeds, regardless of whether or not they are popular enough to warrant a slot. In many cases the stories curators inject into the trending section are not even trending at all and often become top subjects of discussion among the site’s user-base. It’s like organizing a celebrity talk show where everyone is a crusty, mustard stained hobo but lauded by the baying crowd all the same due to the presentation alone. If these talk show hosts say that these people are famous and talented well then they must be, who, after all, would lie about that?
In addition, these same curators also expressly suppressed or omitted a wide variety of conservative news sites, such as Breitbart or Newsmax from the trending feed altogether. It should be said that there is nothing inherently troubling about a news aggregating organization expressing an ideological bias and then picking and choosing what stories they will and will not share based upon those principals. However, there is a marked problem when sites like Facebook are not clear about their ideological orientation and pretend to be but an impartial purveyor of information. This is the same problem I have with the prime-time dumpster fire that is CNN – their wolves in sheep’s clothing approach to information dissemination as well as their propensity for hyperbolic spin and outright falsity.
Facebook utilizes an algorithm which tracks stories and places them into the trending feed based upon their organically achieved popularity. This is publicly stated upon the site itself. Such a statement gives the impression that the site is impartial and herein lies the conundrum as it is manifestly not. This should not come as a surprise to those that are familiar with the hiring practices of the company or the ideological propensities of it’s CEO and co-founder, Mark “I’m working on censoring anti-immigration sentiment” Zuckerberg. For instance, the majority of the aforementioned news curators are primarily leftists straight out of Ivy League schools – there are clearly doctrinal expectations from the continued deployment of individuals from such backgrounds.
Ideology aside, there is another reason why Facebook is so energetically setting itself to artificially engineering the news – Twitter. One of Facebooks biggest competitors, Twitter has consistently beaten out Zuckerberg’s social network in regards to real-time news updates. Due this fact it stands to reason that these news curation groups and their subsequent modulation of the trending news feed is an outgrowth of market competition. The forces of capitalism and ideological dogmatism seem to be pushing Facebook in ever more disconcerting directions and as such should concern every American, not just users of the site. As I mentioned in a previous article about Facebook, the majority of adults get the majority of their news from social media sites. According to the Pew Research Center:
- 6 out of 10 (62% of US adults) get their news primarily from social media sites
- only 38% of adults say they never get news from social media
- 70% of Reddit users get their news from that site
- 66 % of Facebook users get their news from that site
- 59 % of Twitter users get their news from that site
- As of 2012 only 49% of US adults got their news from social media
As you can see from the last mote of information, there has been a marked growth in the correlation between news and social media in recent years. If this trend continues into the future then by 2020 (the time of the next elections) and we see a growth-correlation in news and social media of 13% (as was the case between 2012-2016) then 75% of all adults in the US will be getting all of their news primarily from social media. Whether or not this will end up being the case, social media and online news are undeniably the future of journalism. Given this likely eventuality, we should be ever more vigilant in our criticisms of such institutions as well as our search for alternative outlets.