- The SXSW conference in Austin, Texas played host to a previously untapped discussion about the impacts of arbitrary computer algorithms in pushing news content on social media.
Gilad Lotan from startup incubator Betaworks, and Kelly McBride from journalism school The Poynter Institute, took centre stage in the debate over whether such programs are good for democracy and the profession of journalism.
Below is a screenshot of a typical Facebook news widget:
- McBride says the Facebook news algorithm is a by-product of the millennial notion that 'If news is important, news will find me'.
With the rise of Twitter and Facebook as stalwarts of the new digital age, this is especially true. The notion of the internet being the great liberator for democracy and free speech is undercut by the oligarchic control of mass news exposure which still exists on digital platforms. Here is a quick breakdown of how the Facebook algorithm works:
- This control of content prioritisation is not limited to Facebook. Here are a few examples of how establishment mass media outlets continue to shape the news agenda on Twitter:
- Lotan crystallised the issue when he said "When we think about these algorithms... we have to think about the power that they encode. Effectively it's power to draw people's attention."
By extension, such power ultimately leads to the arbitrary setting of an agenda - which begs the question: is such a power democratic, or a step back to the old information control of the 20th Century?
For more, see the original piece from The Guardian below.