Facebook continues to editorialize online news gathering. According to a new announcement from Alex Hardiman, the social media monopoly’s Head of News Products for Facebook Newsroom, the company has now decided to completely scrap their “trending news” feature due to scandals surrounding fake news rumored to have affected the 2016 presidential election against former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Citing low user engagement with the Trending feature, “less than 1.5 percent of clicks to news publishers on average,” Facebook revealed they’re currently running tests on a “breaking news label.” The feature is currently limited to 80 undisclosed news publications that are pre-approved by Facebook, claiming these publications are based across North America, South America, Europe, India, and Australia. The Washington Post, The Verge, and Vox have announced they’re part of the tests, however Facebook remains silent on what gets you approved other than high regard among Facebook’s elites.
Though the company has failed to give concrete details on this feature, Hardiman also mentioned the company is running experiments on a breaking news notification system, which could act similar to YouTube’s recommendations feature that often links to establishment media outlets like CNN or Fox News, as well as producing exclusive news content on their feature known as Facebook Watch.
Breitbart, a known right-wing agenda rag, actually did some basic journalism and questioned Facebook on their criteria for selecting news outlets, their handling of exclusive content, and who the judge of all this is outside of Facebook’s establishment. This gave Facebook the chance to release their own update post — which amounts to some statistics here and there about user engagements, some platitudes about the importance of high-quality journalism, with no real details on their editorial policies. It’s gotten to the point even staunch propaganda outlets are in the right to call out the roots of potential propaganda when they see it.
In the past, TrigTent has reported on Facebook’s comments that suggest the “neutral public forum” will discriminate against certain publications they consider to be less trustworthy. BuzzFeed News cited Zuckerberg’s comments made during the company’s F8 developer conference that explained users would participate in a “news ranking system” that could alter their overall perception and reach on the platform in certain undisclosed administrative ways.
This lack of transparency is nothing new for Facebook, of course, given the scandal-ridden social media company is still recovering from the intense Cambridge Analytica scandal — in which the online personal data of more than 80 million users was exploited by a Trump-linked consulting firm. It’s not a partisan issue to question how such a monopolistic entity can be expected to maintain honesty.
Watch and Breaking News outline ways Facebook is moving from a neutral public forum, protected under Section 230 of 1996’s Communications Decency Act, to a news outlet that could offer competition to these publications or play lapdog for them. This, in effect, would make Mark Zuckerberg the most powerful editor in the world. Consider their audience of more than 2 billion users worldwide, notifying all of them of exclusive news content and curating sources considered trustworthy based on their users’ harvested data, while they’re legally exempt from the accountability of other news outlets.
The controversy surrounding Facebook’s editorial work dates back to 2016, when Gizmodo published a report about how Facebook’s editors were said to have “routinely suppressed” conservative stories. To Facebook’s credit, these members were fired once the story broke towards the middle of May 2016, though only after an anonymous whistleblower from within the company gave comments to the publication.
Facebook wants to be trusted, but how can such monopolies guarantee ethical practice? Is it through more data collection to pick truthful winners and losers for their users? Is it to produce their own content and wear their bias on their sleeve? Or should they allow their users to curate their news the way they’ve always done? Offering some transparency on campaign advertising finance and third-party inspections on editorial codes and conduct, free from biased sources, while remaining neutral as they so often claim? It was only recently Facebook agreed to a liberal bias audit conducted by former GOP Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who was ranked one of the most conservative politicians in American history. Throwing more bias into the mix doesn’t make good journalistic judgment — it just makes politics.