By: William Cawley (@DigiTrey)
Facebook gets a lot of justifiable flak.
They tend to play loose and fast with the information of others, like secretly complying with government spying programs like PRISM, or failing to adequately protect users from losing information to security breaches. This recklessness undermines privacy in a world that needs it more than ever.
But, there are areas where the flak is not justified. One is the idea of Facebook as a news agency. Facebook, in this view, has a civic duty in its role as a news sharer to not censor important information.
For example, after the deletion of a Facebook post that featured an iconic image of a crying, naked, young girl running from a napalm explosion during the Vietnam war, Aftenposten, Norway’s largest newspaper, was a bit miffed.
Facebook’s error was made in good faith. The picture was of an unclothed, underage girl. Algorithms do not recognize historical significance; they recognize potential child pornography. Despite the correction and amendment to existing guidelines to allow the picture, Facebook was asked to recognize its role as the “world’s most powerful editor.”
Here is a point that appears to get lost in this train of thought: Facebook is not a news outlet. And there is a good reason it isn’t, and shouldn’t be thought of as one.
Social media are part of the filter bubble that encompasses individuals online.
What is a filter bubble? Eli Pariser uses this term as a metaphor of a large bubble that encapsulates users of various applications on the Internet, such as Google and Facebook. This bubble comprises algorithms that allow in the information that a user is most likely to click on.
Unfortunately, users tend to want “clickbait” fluff as well as information that confirms their worldviews rather than information that makes them think. However, this is a fault in humanity. As a business, Facebook must meet the demands of the market if it wants to grow and remain dominant.
So no, this filtering is not an “attack on democracy and freedom of expression,” as Aftenposten, suggests. That is silly, mostly because the First Amendment is a constitutional limit on government, not corporations, but also because Facebook has never claimed to be a news agency.
The onus should be on users. Perhaps they should be reminded that “maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t get your news from social media.”
Kleinman, A. (2014). NSA: Tech Companies Knew About PRISM The Whole Time. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/20/nsa-prism-tech-companies_n_4999378.html
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Sjefredaktør, E. (2016). Dear Mark. I Am Writing This to Inform You That I Shall Not Comply with Your Requirement to Remove This Picture. Aftenposten. Retrieved from http://www.aftenposten.no/meninger/kommentar/Dear-Mark-I-am-writing-this-to-inform-you-that-I-shall-not-comply-with-your-requirement-to-remove-this-picture-604156b.html
Fiegerman, S. (2016). Facebook to Allow Graphic Posts if Deemed ‘Newsworthy.’ CNN Money. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2016/10/21/technology/facebook-news-community-censorship/
Pariser. E. (2011). Beware Online ‘Filter Bubbles.’ TED. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles?language=en