The asymmetry of influencing Facebook's news feed

Posted by Mitchell - June 21, 2016 (entry 718)

I was recently invited as a guest on the local Chicago TV show "26 N. Halsted", which airs on WCIU Channel 26. Here's the video of my appearance:

(Note: The video was recorded the week before the ruling affirming a full victory in the net neutrality wars.)

Among the topics discussed was a recent (probably ginned-up) controversy involving Facebook's purported suppression of conservative stories on its trending stories feed.

A few things: Yes, Facebook's newsfeed is powered by algorithms but that doesn't make it immune to bias, including unconscious biases by programmers. And it's no surprise considering the staggering number of decisions to consider in coding such a feed and the lack of transparency of that code and those decisions. Yes, Facebook's newsfeed is set up so that humans can override the outcomes of those algorithms, as leaked documents from Facebook make clear.

It appears that this whole affair is another instance of the phenomenon of working the refs — "Asked by the Washington Post (8/20) about Republican complaints about the media, Republican national chair Rich Bond helpfully explained: 'There is some strategy to it. I'm the coach of kids' basketball and Little League teams. If you watch any great coach, what they do is work the refs. Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack next time.'"

The outsized influence (for the time being) by right-wing forces suggests this may be a playing out for the umpteenth time on precisely this theme: intimidating outlets, now in the digital sphere, on charges of bias in the hopes that they'll give you sympathetic coverage (or any coverage). For those of us involved in grassroots activism on this side of the political fence, where coverage is the oxygen of activist campaigns and take a LONG time to build up to a critical mass, there's little comparison.

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