Tag Archives: Journalism

Spewing From the Facebook News Feed

In a sharp article that takes a curious turn at the end, Derek Thompson discusses the Facebook News Feed and how it’s influenced by users. The broader and more important point speaks to the role of Facebook as a news source and how it shapes the public’s attention on important issues and conversations.

The News Feed is perhaps the world’s most sophisticated mirror of its readers’ preferences—and it’s fairly clear that news isn’t one of them. We simply prefer stories that fulfill the very purpose of Facebook’s machine-learning algorithm, to show us a reflection of the person we’d like to be, to make us feel, to make us smile, and, most simply, to remind us of ourselves.

In Thompson’s view, since each user has the power to alter her News Feed, we can conclude that evocative and emotional stories are extremely popular on Facebook because users prefer engaging with these stories. We choose to like and share this kind of content and we prefer it over traditional journalism and “hard” news. Thompson believes that Facebook has become a portal to entertainment-focused stories because that’s what users actually want to consume.

The problem I see in this line of reasoning is how little attention is paid to Facebook’s own control of the algorithms that determine what users see. In Thompson’s essay he makes it seem as if users have full power to create the News Feed just because a user can friend/de-friend and follow certain pages. But I think Thompson confuses the ability to alter the News Feed with transparency and control over it. Except for Facebook employees, nobody knows what the News Feed algorithms look like. Thompson also fails to acknowledge that even machine-learning algorithms were created by humans and contain very human biases both unintentional and by design (which news sources are favored/what kind of behavior determines that a user actually likes a story).

Facebook’s interest is to maximize user engagement. By measuring likes, shares, and comments, the company is improving ways to keep us on the News Feed. But I think the question “How best to retain the audience?” is different from “What are the deeper preferences for consuming news?” Thompson, however, thinks they are the same.

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What Has Become of Business Journalism?

The New Yorker published my essay about the financial crisis and business journalism; I review a new book that talks about these issues.

“The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark” doesn’t attempt to enshrine old-media institutions. Instead, it defines accountability reporting and what’s needed to foster it, no matter the medium: resources, to fund extensive research; expert knowledge, to decipher sub-cultures; and resilient editors willing to withstand intimidation from the government and from powerful companies. Starkman’s strength is his insistence that we judge journalism from within its own tradition rather than jamming it through the logic of market efficiency or “disruptive” information technology and accepting what comes out.

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From Tweet to Ad to Mini Modern Scandal

AO Scott, movie critic of the New York Times, writes a personal essay on movie marketing and Twitter. After one of his tweets is altered and turned into a print movie ad, a strange conversation sparks.

Here we begin a rapid descent into a wormhole created by the collision of movie-awards campaigning and paracritical chirping. The world may be divided between those who think Twitter defines the boundaries of the universe and those who don’t know what it is. It may also be divided between those who follow every surge and stumble of the “race” to the Oscars and those who might or might not remember to tune into ABC on March 2. Somehow, I have found myself in the Venn diagram circle of hell where two pointless obsessions — with words and statues that, by any reasonable measure of significance, mean nothing — converge, and if you are still reading, I have dragged you along. As they say on Twitter: #sorrynotsorry.

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Gawker’s Kinja

Nick Bilton of the New York Times provides an informative summary and update on Gawker’s Kinja, a platform that intends to change the way comments work on web sites.

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No More Anonymous Comments. Long Live Anonymous Comments!

Mathew Ingram of GigaOm takes issue with the Huffington Post which starting next month will no longer allow anonymous comments.

Do we encourage trolls and offensive behavior when we allow people to contribute anonymously? Perhaps. But free speech comes with a price, and I think we lose something significant when we start requiring people to verify their identities before we listen to what they have to say. If that’s what is required for a “grown-up internet” then I would like to stick with the one we have.

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The Silent Sound

In an opinion piece at WIRED, Clive Thompson discusses the distinct lack of sound in networked technology.

Arguably, we haven’t seen a lot of innovation in audio online. Video, photography, and the written word have been transformed: Oodles of clever tools let us use them for thinking, talking, analyzing, and cogitating. But this hasn’t happened with sound. Sure, we’ve got endless apps for collecting and listening to music, but nothing for the enormous universe of nonmusical sound.

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Facebook’s New News Feed

In the world according to Facebook we are bits expressing ostentatious enthusiasm or we do not exist. So argues Rob Horning at The New Inquiry.

Facebook is like a television that monitors to see how much you are laughing and changes the channel if it decides you aren’t laughing hard enough. It hopes to engrain in users the idea that if your response to something isn’t recordable, it doesn’t exist, because for Facebook, that is true. Your pleasure is its product, what it wants to sell to marketers, so if you don’t evince it, you are a worthless user wasting Facebook’s server space. In the world according to Facebook, emotional interiority doesn’t exist. Introspection doesn’t exist, and neither does ambivalence. There is only ostentatious enthusiasm or null dormancy.

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Navigating Homosex

“Even if the internet helps men find sex with men outside the gay identity, they’re still not safe from the heterosexual regime,” writes Huw Lemmey in The New Inquiry.

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Facebook Courts Celebrities; Builds Twittery Tools

“It’s all part of a bigger push to encourage more “public” content on the site, beyond the stuff only you and your friends care about. Facebook wants you to spend more time talking about things in the news, or stuff you see on TV. And it would like you to pay attention to things your favorite celebrities do on the site,” reports Peter Kafka at AllThingsD

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The Olds Don’t Know Where Facebook Is

With a humorous bite Becca Hafter writes at The Awl:

But Olds don’t have Facebooks. They’re “on” Facebook. The Olds need a preposition when they talk about Facebook because they do not automatically locate themselves on the Internet. But their word choice serves an additional function. Their constant verbal reification of operating in (on) a space that is not theirs but Facebook’s works pretty well to keep themselves aware of the fact that Facebook owns everything they post. This is something millennials love to disregard.

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