Trending: Facebook’s role in deciding what’s trending

Kai Ryssdal May 11, 2016
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GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images

Trending: Facebook’s role in deciding what’s trending

Kai Ryssdal May 11, 2016
GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The intersection of media, corporate conduct, politics and public outrage landed squarely on Facebook earlier this week. An article in Gizmodo said Facebook employees routinely suppressed news stories with a conservative bent from the site’s “Trending” topics feed.

Facebook’s vice president of search, Tom Stocky, replied and said it does no such thing.

Then the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee got involved. Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota asked Facebook to tell the U.S. Senate what steps it was taking to investigate the claims in the Gizmodo article and, more generally, to describe how they create that trending topics feed in the first place

Lots of claims, and lots of questions for Senior Tech Correspondent Molly Wood, starting with this one:

Is Facebook now a media company and not just a social platform?

Yes and I think that’s been a long time coming … and what I like about the current conversation, even though I think you could argue that the “Trending” box is the least important thing happening on Facebook, is that we are now having a serious conversation about the extent to which Facebook influences our conversations, and the extent to which its editorial decisions, which it’s absolutely making, might influence what we see in the news feed and all over the rest of the site.

So where does that leave traditional media outlets?

The obligation is on them not to let Facebook control their own narratives in such a powerful way. You could look back to Google, when Google’s algorithm got to be the most powerful thing in town and every news organization was all about SEO … and Facebook is just sort of the new thing that we are chasing. We chased clicks on Facebook, then we chased publishing stories on Facebook, now we’re chasing live video on Facebook.

Should we be questioning Facebook?

Facebook’s not our mom. To be absolutely clear, I am not sure that Facebook has some sort of moral responsibility to us necessarily, but we should be wary, for sure, it is not transparent, it is unclear how they operate. I love the Senate Committee questions to Facebook, now those are great journalism. So yes, there are a lot of really legitimate questions about the ways that Facebook manipulates us into using its product, and how it is arguably trying to create a world where all media and entertainment is membership only, and we the consumers are the ones who have to make our own decisions about whether we want to play or not.

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