Why Facebook’s credibility problem should scare us allMay 20, 2016
Mr. Zuckerberg had me fooled. I really believed him when he railed about Facebook being an open community that gives everyone a voice. Everyone, that is, who agrees with a liberal, left-coast bias. Seems Facebook isn’t nearly as smart as Mr. Zuckerberg led everyone to believe. What with its automated algorithms and its artificial intelligence’s ability to tease out those trending topics of highest interest. I believed it all. That is until last week. Mashable reported that human editors have a heavy hand in deciding what’s hot and what’s not. And what’s not is any political view that doesn’t side with a liberal bent.
Don’t get me wrong, I actually believe that media has the right to skew coverage based on ideology. I have no problem at all with MSNBC reading DNC talking points or Fox News giving the straight Republican line. Objective news is a relatively new concept in a country that once sported one Democrat and one Republican newspaper in every city.
What I do have an issue with however, is a lack of transparency or even downright deception when it comes to shaping news. By claiming automated objectivity, Facebook gained a degree of credibility that most of us considered beyond the touch of human editors. But more importantly, by picking winners and losers, Facebook has a unique ability to impact the financial viability of select media. As a recycler of news, Facebook can make or break the financial fortunes of
specific media points. Choosing favorites flies in the face of Zuckerberg’s assertion that Facebook is an open market of ideas that relishes honest exchanges.
Facebook’s indiscretion seems limited, for now, to that small little box of trending topics that appears in the desktop version of the app. But what if there’s more bias? I suspect there is. In my job, I “Like” just about every left-and right-leaning media on Facebook. My choices are profit-driven, not ideological. And yet in a very unscientific study, it seems that left-leaning media dominates my Facebook stream while right-leaning media stories don’t appear nearly as often. Even those media points that claim to play it straight down narrow fairways, such as NPR, seem to have their left-leaning stories appear much more frequently on my Facebook feed than middle-of-the-road or conservative NPR stories. Coincidence? Perhaps. But when one part of Facebook becomes infected with bias, you have to wonder how much of what you read and see is also slanted, undermining the integrity many of us entrust to Facebook.