How Facebook Became The Old Media, Only Worse

Where are the conservative donors? Why is there no vision among them? We need alternative streams — pipelines — to get information to more Americans. Why aren’t conservative rich people buying radio news networks? Major newspapers? Employing creative conservatives to find and construct new ways to actually connect with more of our fellow citizens?

Here is Robert Tracinski writing at The Federalist:

Facebook is re-building the gatekeeper role once claimed by The New York Times editorial board, but with less accountability.

A report on the inner workings of Facebook’s “Trending Topics” headlines exposes how Facebook contractors routinely manipulated the news feed to exclude topics and news sources of interest to people on the right. Here’s how a whistleblower put it:

I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz.

The giveaway, really, is that the people who manage Trending Topics call themselves “news curators.” Whenever you see the word “curator” or “curate” outside of an actual museum, it means paternalistically chosen based on some hipster recent college grad’s notion of what’s good for you.

Facebook is a private company and has a right to do what it wants with its news feed. But this is still big news, for three reasons.

(1) Facebook Lied

First, Facebook led us to believe that functions like Trending Topics are based on what its users are choosing to talk about, not just the opinions of some nameless Facebook flunkie. It’s all supposed to be done by the impersonal mathematics of algorithms. (If today’s Silicon Valley had a motto, it would be “In Algorithms We Trust.”) But it looks like that’s a lie.

Here’s the whistleblower again: “We were doing it subjectively. It just depends on who the curator is and what time of day it is.” They “inject” some topics on orders from above and keep other topics and sources out. That leads us to the second reason this is a big story.

(2) Facebook Broke the Promise of New Media

As with Twitter, our social media giants are squandering the promise of the new Internet media. Everything that was supposed to be a revolutionary improvement about the media in the new era of the Internet — no gatekeepers, no filters, power to the people! — is being dismantled.

Read more: The Federalist

Image credit: Robert Scoble.