Facebook’s public panic attack continues

Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of social media giant Facebook, is trying to work out which news sources are more trustworthy than others. This sets a worrying precedent.

Zuck’s latest commandment in the name of purifying your Facebook feed is to make sure the news you see is ‘high quality’. “I’ve asked our product teams to make sure we prioritize news that is trustworthy, informative, and local. And we’re starting next week with trusted sources,” he proclaimed.

Already you can see the slippery slope embarked upon when social media platforms seek to actively edit not just what is uploaded to the platform, but which of it you end up seeing. “There’s too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarization in the world today,” continued Zuck, warming to his self-imposed editorial role. “That’s why it’s important that News Feed promotes high quality news that helps build a sense of common ground.”

Is it now? That’s one perspective but the definition of ‘high quality’ is highly subjective and what if people don’t want to build a sense of common ground? To insulate Facebook from the charge of imposing its own institutional narrative on its users Zuck has decided to “ask people whether they’re familiar with a news source and, if so, whether they trust that source.”

So the result will be a community-driven component to the algorithm that promotes content according to its trustworthiness. Sounds like a great idea until you scratch the surface and look into how that all-important trust metric is calculated. This piece published by The Atlantic, which may or may not be a trustworthy source, sums up some of the concerns over this move well.

This is just the latest in a round of significant tweaking to the Facebook platform apparently brought about by anxieties from a number of sources. Facebook has long been associated with the spread of misleading and agenda-driven content, often collectively referred to as ‘fake news’ these days. On top of that its dominant position inevitably puts it under greater public scrutiny and there are growing concerns about levels of user engagement.

Facebook recently announced a change to its algorithm such higher priority is given to content deemed to provide ‘more meaningful social interactions’, which means a slight downgrade for news and an upgrade for photos of little Johnny’s first day at school. It seems likely there will be more tweaks to come but they feel at least futile and often counter-productive.

Does anyone think Facebook is more user-friendly now than it was a couple of years ago? Thanks to this increasing level of editorial intrusion in the ‘news feed’ posts by close friends and family often fail to appear at all. What’s wrong with just serving up posts from everyone you follow in simple chronological order? If Facebook really wants to remain useful and relevant to its average user it might want to consider just getting out of the way.

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