Having Faced years of critique for censoring unpopular news and opinion, Facebook has recently announced that it will remove the Trending feed in favor of “future news experiences on Facebook.”
According to the social media giant, the Trending feed has become “less and less useful” as it only accounts for less than 1.5% of clicks to news outlets and was only available in 5 countries. Instead, they tout the addition of more labeling of news articles as “Breaking News”, “Today In”, and “News Video” from “trustworthy and quality sources.”
This new change isn’t the most encouraging thing to hear from a company which has been under public scrutiny for several years over acts of censorship against its users, including those made by popular conservative commentator Lauren Southern as she was temporarily banned from the site in 2016 for speaking publicly about censorship against herself and other similar voices.
— Lauren Southern (@Lauren_Southern) May 21, 2016
Shortly before the fiasco with Southern, a former Facebook employee had admitted to Facebook censorship of stories about figures such as Rand Paul from the Trending feed, sparking a sharp backlash against the tech giant seeing as though it is essentially a public gatekeeper of news and information.
The former employee also revealed that “news curators” “inject” favored stories into the trending feed, regardless of whether they were popular enough to be included. Although instead of removing the feed entirely, Facebook could have opted for a solution which simply enabled algorithms to choose trending news in an unbiased way.
However, since the U.S. general election upset, the mainstream media has been pushing for Facebook to counteract alleged “Fake News” by hand-picking stories from legacy outlets such as CNN and CBS to appear on the site while eliminating news they deem to be “fake” or “unsafe”.
This strategy unfortunately targets popular and arguably well-intentioned independent news outlets as well. In an article by CBS, sites like Infowars and YourNewsWire were placed in the same category as satire outlet The Onion and conservative commentary sites such as the Christian Times, along with sites claiming to be major outlets like ABC News.
Facebook has also censored a self-acclaimed satire site called The Babylon Bee for publishing an article titled “CNN Purchases Industrial-Sized Washing Machine To Spin News Before Publication”. Although clearly comedy, Facebook-hired “face checkers” decided that this piece of fake news did not belong on the site and it was swiftly removed.
“ATLANTA, GA—In order to aid the news station in preparing stories for consumption, popular news media organization CNN purchased an industrial-sized washing machine to help its journalists and news anchors spin the news before publication.
The custom-made device allows CNN reporters to load just the facts of a given issue, turn a dial to “spin cycle,” and within five minutes, receive a nearly unrecognizable version of the story that’s been spun to fit with the news station’s agenda.” – The Babylon Bee
As the spread of intentionally misleading or deceptive news has always been a problem, neither the media nor tech companies should have the power to censor news and bypass an individual’s right to content that they want to see.
Although Facebook’s decision to purge the Trending feed isn’t the end of the world for journalists, it is a sign that instead of going in the direction of press freedom as a public forum, the tech giant would rather focus on acting as a regular newsroom would, where stories are hand-picked based on the bias of company employees and their created algorithms.
The path that Facebook appears to be taking is not good for independent journalism and out-of-the-box thinkers like Southern, but it does warrant the danger that when you allow small groups of people to determine the news you receive, you will inevitably be barred from hearing the perspectives that your gatekeepers don’t agree with.
Even New York Times CEO Mark Thompson agrees that ‘fake news’ algorithms will eventually lead to a damaged democracy.
“The process of citizens making up their own mind which news source to believe is messy, and can indeed lead to ‘fake news,’ but to rob them of that ability, and to replace the straightforward accountability of editors and publishers for the news they produce with a centralized trust algorithm will not make democracy healthier but damage it further.” – Mark Thompson, New York Times CEO
This article (Facebook Replaces Trending With Intensified ‘Fake News’ Algorithms) originally appeared at PhillipSchneider.com and may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author credit, and this copyright statement.