Network of Excellence in Internet Science

Jay Rosen: Facebook has to start growing up

https://www.facebook.com/jayrosen/posts/10152662465271548
It has to start recognizing that our questions are real. We are not suggesting that FB "edits" NewsFeed in the same way that a newspaper editor once edited the front page. It's a very different way. That's why we're asking about it! We are not suggesting that algorithms work in the same way that elites deciding what's news operated. No: a different way. That's why we're asking about it!

No one is being simple-minded here and demanding that Facebook describe editorial criteria it clearly does not have— like reaching for a nice mix of foreign and domestic news. We get it. You want not to be making those decisions. You want user interest to drive those decisions. We're not platform idiots. We're capable of understanding the basics of machine learning, collaborative filtering and algorithmic authority. Stop treating us like children at a Passover seder who don't know enough to ask a good question.

But precisely because we do "get it" — at least at a basic level — we do want to know: what are you optimizing for, ALONG WITH user interest? How do you see your role within a news ecosystem where you are more and more the dominant player? In news, you have power now. It is growing. Help us understand how you intend to use it. What kind of filter do you intend to be? What kind of player... playing for what?

These are not outrageous questions. They do not misstate how Facebook works. They are not attempts to turn the clock back to a time when editors chose and readers read. We don't need your answers to babysit us. We're awake and alive in the algorithmic age and exercising our critical faculties just fine.

Andy Mitchell's three answers are not adequate— for us or for Facebook.

1. Q. What are you optimizing for, ALONG WITH user interest? A. "It's not that we control NewsFeed, you control NewsFeed." No, sorry, stop treating us like children and start thinking about a better answer to a legitimate question.

2. Q. How do you see your role in the news ecosystem where you are more and more the dominant player? A. "Facebook should not anyone's primary news source or news experience." No, sorry. On mobile, especially, this is exactly what is happening. And everyone who pays attention knows how strenuously Facebook tries to keep users engaged with Facebook. So "we don't want to be primary" is... look: I'm trying to be nice here... a little insulting.

3. Q. In news you have power now. How do you intend to use that power? A. "We just want to create a great experience for users." No, sorry, that's not an answer because you just said (see 1.) the users have the power, not Facebook, so what you're really saying is: power? us? whatever do you mean?

Can you tell I'm exasperated? (I've written about this before. See:http://pressthink.org/…/facebooks-phony-claim-that-youre-i…/ ) But Facebook's smart, capable and caring-about-news people, Andy Mitchell and Liz Heron among them, should be disappointed that this is as far as the company has gotten in being real with itself and with us. Not very far.

And you know what else? If you agree with it, please like and share my post because, yeah... we get how this thing works. At least a little.

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