Why you shouldn’t get “News” from Facebook

Josh Li - 1T Mechanical
Posted on: July 16, 2016

Since 2014, we assume that the Trending section on Facebook’s homepage is representative of searches and stories that have recently spiked in popularity. Some might consider it an adequate source of news and the American Press Institute has found that 88% of millennial get their news from Facebook regularly. This is a problem for several reasons: in addition to the questionable authenticity of websites Facebook redirects you to, it all begins with Facebook as a service, i.e. delivering news is not a major part of what it’s trying to offer.

Facebook is a personalized platform, an environment where “you see what you want to see, and what your friends see” for maximum engagement on your home page. If you haven’t realized, the trending section of Facebook is specifically catered towards you (the user) and Facebook even admits this, and just like the posts you see on a feed, Facebook can also keep track of trending stories you engage with to show you more of the same.

Facebook is also constantly changing, through waves of new content that are used to maintain novelty when a user returns. The trending section is no different; within a few minutes new stories will arise to replace some old ones, at least the top three stories you see will frequently refresh to be different.

This is not what “News” is suppose to be. Very important news should be important to everyone, and at least all users should be able to view it regardless of whether it is within their (Facebook determined) domain of interest. Furthermore, although news is ever-changing, the amount of mention and space should be related to how important a particular event is, whereas Facebook bullet points do not allow this. While good journalism will follow-up on important stories for a few days if needed, Facebook’s user experience model makes sure that a news story rarely stays on their site for more than a couple hours.

What you’re really getting with Facebook is actually nothing like Twitter’s trending hashtags. As far as we know, hashtags arise naturally off Twitter mentions. Facebook’s Trending used to be based off algorithms, until Ivy-graduated (or at least well paid) “News Curators” took over the job.

What you’re not getting with Facebook news is an organic delivery system that is unbiased. The curators were actually created to “inject” important but less talked about news into the system, to make it seem like there is a natural discussion on the site. This was the case for Malaysian Air MH370 and Charlie Hebdo attacks among other examples. However, with curators acting as human intervention, Facebook becomes prone to the same biases every news outlet has, choosing to favour some particular stances and ignore others.

In a recent confession to gizmodo.com, a Facebook news curator claimed their system suppresses specific conservative news stories from Trending topics. Curators have admitted that the bias runs against conservative news outlets and stories are not deemed trending until a more neutral outlet publishes it (more on biases of news sources later). Facebook, of course, denies the entire thing, describing these curators as “reviewers”, which at least admits the human element in the trending section. Where there are humans, there will be biases.

The final problem with Facebook news is media literacy: understanding the news stories around us as they are presented. When it comes to established print sources, we are aware of the authors and editors involved and recognize how some sources are more liberal (the Toronto Star), some more conservative (Global Post) and others not so meaningful (the Sun). By reading the Iron Warrior for example, you understand that Engineering students show greater interest in technology and the environment in addition to expressing their own opinions.

On Facebook, news is not delivered in concrete publish sources, but rather mixed together with obscure websites and personal opinion. The sites Facebook redirects you to do not hold to a specific standard of publication, and the validity some sources should be questioned. But which ones? We don’t know. The bigger question lies in these alternative, foreign sites which are not under a published banner or standard, where news can often be manipulated with opinion, and infused with biases from the publisher just like a newspaper. This would be fine if we knew about which sources prefer to take a specific stance, but with Facebook’s presentation of the news, we are completely in the dark.

For your own benefit, read more authentic news publishers, and stay away from the news of Facebook.