(UR) Menlo Park, CA — It’s no secret that the media is biased. A recent revelation that the news feed of your social media may contain a bias, however, might come as a shock to some users. In a series of reports released over the past several weeks, it appears that Facebook has been selectively presenting news articles to users with a particular bias. More interesting, however, is that this bias is not coming from the implementation of an algorithm — this bias is human.
Facebook is not, by its nature, a media outlet. It is a platform for connecting people and organizations while sharing ideas. That being the case, it is not surprising that roughly 600 million people either receive their news from, or see news stories on the site before being directed to media outlets. It is the nature of its connectivity that makes Facebook one of the principal sources for news access among users. Manipulation of the news from a platform designed to connect people and ideas can therefore have serious consequences.
That Facebook not only influences the news stories a user sees on their news feed, but omits the news from certain sources, makes this revelation of a bias so important. Users can expect a bias when using Facebook — their own. Facebook isn’t alone in its bias — you are actively censoring the news by choosing which outlets you interact with in your newsfeed.
When tailoring a news feed, users have the power to select sources, follow the outlets and journalists of their choice, and remain informed based on their own desires and preferences. Bias from the platform itself, particularly when that bias appears to be partisan, can have a massive effect — especially when the user feels they have the power to choose.
According to an article in Wired, Facebook users are generally sharing less about themselves. Users appear to be using the platform more to discuss the news, and for informing themselves about what’s going on in the world. Reflective of this trend, in 2014, Facebook launched Facebook Media to give news sources more access to the backend of the platform. With this access, media sources might have expected impartial access to the platform. Unfortunately for conservative media outlets, this is not the case. And the bias is not specifically technological.
Despite early concerns over Facebook algorithms privileging one set of sources over another, new information shows that even human curators have been hired to manipulate trending news articles. For users expecting impartial access to the news, or access based on their personal biases, the staff hired by Facebook did not erase the bias of the algorithms but apparently increased it. One result for this is what one reporter calls a “stranglehold” over available news traffic.
Privileging one set of sources over another has not gone unnoticed. Calls for accountability that began within the press itself are now coming from government as well. Control over the media is, some have argued, one method of controlling public opinion. As such, having the power to manipulate what information people are exposed to cannot be taken lightly. And the government agrees.
Amid calls for oversight and explanation, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is planning to meet with conservatives in the media with the express purpose of explaining the revelations of this planned bias. Some senators are now demanding the same.
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