A Simple Explanation Showing How Facebook is Destroying Credible Journalism and News

facebook-dislikeFacebook is an easy target to bash – and rightfully so on a lot of levels.  They claim they’re all about the user experience, yet it seems with every one of their updates users become less and less satisfied with their service.  But much like Walmart, as much as people complain about it, they still keep coming back to it.

But I’m not really here to bash Facebook for many of the little things that it does.  I think, at its core, Facebook is a wonderful tool.  It’s truly been a way to connect the world through social media.  No matter what anyone feels about Facebook, its impact and effectiveness are indisputable.  It’s brought people together from all over the world in ways we never thought possible not too long ago.  Despite all its flaws, Facebook is still a great social networking platform.

I think my main issue is that I wish they’d let people have more control over their own Facebook accounts.  As in, let users see what they want to see in their news feed without some mysterious algorithm dictating to them what they will or won’t be shown based supposedly on how much interest they give to a particular Facebook page that they follow.

Because their algorithm is destroying credible journalism.

Let me explain.  Facebook reads what you “Like,” “Share” or comment on frequently and supposedly those are the people or pages from which you’ll be shown more posts in your news feed.  In theory, it’s showing you these pages or people because it’s determined that those are the ones that present more “quality information” that’s causing you to interact with them.

Except that’s not always the case.

For example, people aren’t likely to “like” a headline to a story that isn’t something positive or geared toward their natural biases, even if it’s a story that they enjoyed or agreed with.

Who’s going to “like” a sad headline?  Not many.  It just feels odd, doesn’t it?

Not only that, it’s causing many news organizations, and other sorts of websites, to put “the best click bait” ahead of “the best quality news story for us to focus our attentions on.”

Granted, there’s a balance each of these sites can maintain to try to produce quality information and still conform to this click bait world in which we are living.

But there’s just one problem that causes many to abandon that ethical balance – greed.  

There are far too many of these supposed “news” sites or Facebook pages who’ve abandoned almost all semblance of ethics in the name of generating the most revenue possible.  Sites that realize it’s no longer about producing factual news, but it’s about feeding reader bias.  So those are the stories they push.

And Facebook has been a prime catalyst for this behavior.

The more outrageous the headline, the more that story panders to what people want to hear instead of what’s actually factual, the more likely people on Facebook are going to “like” and “share” it.

Which means that page is getting more activity.  And more activity means more revenue.

Just take this situation in Ferguson.  I’ve seen so many sites spread such false information about this story, for a time, I wasn’t even sure what was or wasn’t factual.  Heck, I’m still not completely sure because so many websites are leaving out specific information, or editing videos, just so that they can push a particular narrative in a story that they believe will generate the most revenue.

If I go to one site I’ll read one story.  Go to another and I’ll get a completely different set of “facts.”  It’s sad that I’ve had to turn to CNN because they seem to have the least biased reporting on what’s been going on of any website or “news” network that I’ve come across.

Some websites have even been comparing Ferguson to Gaza. Do me a favor, any website that’s trying to compare what’s going on in Ferguson to Gaza, never follow them again.

To compare the two is blatant fear mongering and absolutely ridiculous.  The situation in Ferguson is bad, but it’s nothing like what’s going on in Gaza.

That being said, fear mongering sells great on Facebook.  A headline reading something like Ferguson is America’s Gaza will undoubtedly bring about a ton of Facebook attention and generate quite a lot of money.

Because it’s outrageous, controversial and it feeds into the fear many Americans have about what’s been going on there.  Even though, like I said, the two are nothing alike.  Because when presented with the right images and information in a highly edited setting, almost anyone can make anything seem credible.

Even though any journalist who tries to compare Ferguson to Gaza should cease being seen as credible by everyone.

But confirmation bias isn’t the only issue.   This desire for attention often means the “news” on which these sites spend a great deal of time is basically trash news.  Stories with topics or headlines specifically meant to get “likes” and “shares” based on their absurdity or general “tabloid” trash journalism factor.

Want an example?  If you go to The Huffington Post and search their site for articles that mention a certain male reproductive organ, you’ll pull up this page which gave me over 189,000 articles relating to that organ in some way.

189,000! 

For comparison purposes, if you search for the same thing on WebMD’s website, you get 734 results.

Now I’m not saying I’m completely opposed to click bait.  It’s a reality that’s not going away.  But what Facebook has done is base their algorithm around the notion that what constitutes “quality information” is what the user “likes” or “shares.”

And that’s a real problem.

Hell, Fox News is easily the most popular cable news channel, and their Facebook page has incredible activity levels.  Does that mean the content they’re producing is of a “high quality”?

Not hardly.

It just means they know how to pander to what their followers want to see and hear, even if the information isn’t factual.

All this ultimately does is creates a world where people are being fed stories that might not be factually accurate, because sites have had to gear themselves toward producing the most “shocking” or “outrageous” headlines and stories.  Because if they don’t, people won’t “like” them and Facebook will deem that information “low quality.”

Politics itself proves that people don’t choose what’s best, but what panders to what they want to hear.  That’s why our government is so messed up.

We don’t vote for candidates who might be a little bit liberal and a little bit conservative.  Oh, no.  Those kinds of candidates don’t tell us exactly what we want to hear.  So we choose the one who isn’t being honest, they’re just feeding us whatever information they think will get them elected.  You know, what the voters want to hear.

Then we wonder why our government is terrible.

Well, the same thing goes for our news.  People nowadays are seeking out “news” sites that tell them what they want to hear, instead of what’s actually factual or needs to be said.

Which brings us back to Facebook.

Being that people are often only wanting to see things that they want to hear, with Facebook’s algorithm being based on “likes” or “shares,” it’s created this bubble in which people live. A bubble where they’re only fed the most “outrageous” or “shocking” headlines that appeal to whatever they’ve “liked” or “shared” often.

And that’s created a vicious cycle.

These sites and pages have realized that the “best” way to generate revenue isn’t by quality reporting or writing, it’s by whatever gets them the most attention.  And unfortunately what generates the most attention isn’t often quality; it’s fear, outrage and pandering to confirmation bias.

And while some sites have managed to maintain integrity while still pandering slightly to this “click bait” world, far too many have sold out to greed and couldn’t give a damn about ethics or quality journalism.


Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.

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  • felipe63

    Lack of credible journalists is killing journalism. The idea that Clifton is complaining about

    “the more that story panders to what people want to hear instead of what’s actually factual,…..”

    is laughable considering how many times I’ve read him distort the facts of a story to fit his own (and his readers’) confirmation bias

  • Sandy Greer

    So Facebook is destroying credible journalism? Because bloggers (like Clifton) put out ‘click-bait’ headlines? And ‘pander’ to reader confirmation bias? Okey dokey…

    >Now I’m not saying I’m completely opposed to click bait

    ^^^No, you wouldn’t want to say that. Because it’s the best line in this blog.

    Difficulty finding an unbiased news source? Now, there’s an irony! Next he’ll be telling us where to go for our news – and what not to read. Oh wait…

    Clifton’s pot has met its kettle.

    Be the Change. What’s stopping you?

  • Nancy

    Aside from all the points that you made regarding b.s. news feeds, I read about many things just because I know nothing about them. To then have these things turn up on my Facebook page, whether they are ads, b.s. political articles, or other sponsored articles, is really annoying.