Back in 2005, when Facebook required a “.edu” email address to join, few journalists could have imagined what the social media platform would become — a digital monolith of content sharing that features 1.5 billion users, $45 billion in assets and a $119 per share stock price.
If anything, the role of Facebook in journalism was an annoyance. Reporters of all ilk worked Facebook into their stories, with newspapermen debating the ethics of citing something said on Facebook and those on TV shooting blurry pictures of the website off a computer screen.
Even worse, trendy stories about the Facebook experience circled news consumers like a crowd endlessly doing the wave in an empty basketball arena: “Is your college student addicted to Facebook?” “Employers are interested in job applicants’ Facebook pages.” “Facebook stalking. It’s a thing.”
In short, Facebook wasn’t a medium through which journalists promoted news or the public obtained its news. Facebook was the news.
Old copy shared as news: ‘Let’s get the date right’
by William W. Savage III
A decade later, the opposite is true. Sites like NonDoc rely on upward of 50 percent of their traffic coming from Facebook. Consumers “read the news” by opening the Facebook app on their phones instead of visiting a half-dozen homepages trying to stay up-to-date on world affairs. Even when Facebook does something as an entity that warrants news coverage, it doesn’t overshadow the role Facebook plays 86,400 seconds per day in delivering “news” to the public.
As a result, two dynamic pieces from Gawker-owned Gizmodo.com this month are worth reading:
The first is a comprehensive overview of how Facebook currently explores its relationship with journalism outfits. In it, author Michael Nunez anonymously quotes former Facebook contractors who ran the site’s “trending news” component:
One reason Facebook might want to keep the trending news operation faceless is that it wants to foster the illusion of a bias-free news ranking process—a network that sorts and selects news stories like an entirely apolitical machine. After all, the company’s entire media division, which is run by Facebook’s managing editor Benjamin Wagner, depends on people’s trust in the platform as a conduit for information. If an editorial team is deliberating over trending topics—just like a newspaper staff would talk about front-page news—Facebook risks losing its image as a non-partisan player in the media industry, a neutral pipeline for distributing content, rather than a selective and inherently flawed curator.
In his second piece, Nunez quotes former curators as saying conservative-focused topics or articles were intentionally omitted. Similarly, some stories were injected into the trending feature:
Managers on the trending news team did, however, explicitly instruct curators to artificially manipulate the trending module in a different way: When users weren’t reading stories that management viewed as important, several former workers said, curators were told to put them in the trending news feed anyway. Several former curators described using something called an “injection tool” to push topics into the trending module that weren’t organically being shared or discussed enough to warrant inclusion—putting the headlines in front of thousands of readers rather than allowing stories to surface on their own. In some cases, after a topic was injected, it actually became the number one trending news topic on Facebook.
In all, both pieces are informative reads for anyone interested in how the world’s largest social media platform operates. Here at NonDoc, we’re still learning new things weekly about what has become our primary content-delivery mechanism.
For instance, did you know that if you want all your friends to see the NonDoc articles on which you click “share,” you need to make sure your “sharing settings” are set to “public”?
We’ve come a long way from .edu email addresses.