“Gimme Some Truth” – John Lennon 1971 could be a reposte to the current fuss over fake news on social media. Have we created monster robots and algorithms that feed us biased news we want to hear on social media websites? The answer unfortunately seems to be, yes. I will look at the whole issue of fake news on social media, how screening of news works and how search on Google is personlised. Does it create a bias? Are people aware of this bias? How capable are people of reviewing information for themselves in a “filtered” environment. We’ll look at some issues and conclusions from this. In essence what we see and don’t see is determined for us by the social media platforms and search engines. We are connected with people of similar views. And the tendency is for social media sites to block people who hold different views.
What is Curated?
It’s worth reminding ourselves of what curated content is. Content curation is the process of gathering information relevant to a particular topic or area of interest. Hence Facebook and Google are targeting content we will want. Perhaps one problem is the conflation of wider news and social media posts from friends. Our Facebook portal has become a catchall page to present “interesting stuff” that will not offend and blocks off alternative views. This presents a bland picture, free of controversy for the viewer. Simlarly with Google, where our interests and habits create a bias in the search. More of this later.
Your Curated Feed
I would not normally wholesale extract a complete quote; but Bobby Friction, BBC Asian Network broadcaster summed up the situation very well on the Radio 4 website:
“Facebook shows you a timeline created by their algorithms, so what you see on your timeline is what they think you want to see and are interested in. This often means your friends who think differently to you on any news topic might not always appear on your timeline. Your exposure to different viewpoints narrows and the echo chamber effect grows. Turn on the setting for “Most Recent” on your news feed, which is hard to find and you must do it every time you log on. It means you’ll be bombarded with stories that might mean nothing to you, friends who you don’t really know that well and LOTS of pictures that bore the life out of you. But you will at least have a real-time timeline.”
His Facebook 5 tips are for Taking Control of Your Timeline are:
- Turn off your curated feed now!
- Click “like” on everything
- Don’t click on links
- Organise and preach the gospel of the non-curated feed
- Turn off, tune out and drop out!
Impossible…(his word not mine this last one)
Tips for You to Take Control of Your Facebook News Feed
The whole idea of a Filter Bubble was a term coined by Eli Pariser @elipariser author of the book of the same name and seen here in the Ted Talk. He explains how algorithms are shaping what we get to see and know online. I asked Bobby Friction how to turn off the curated news feed. He tweeted me this message: “ ..use this in Google “change to most recent on Facebook” then follow instructions as its different for every phone” and if you are using your PC then I found this worked to an extent. See this help page on Facebook here which says:
You can view stories by Most Recent rather than Top Stories, but News Feed will eventually return to its default setting.
By default, News Feed shows the most popular stories first. To temporarily view stories by most recent:
Click Home at the top of Facebook
Click next to News Feed in the left column
Select Most Recent
Learn the difference between viewing News Feed by top stories and most recent.
Natasha Lomas from TechCrunch says this only needs resetting a couple of times a month. For more ideas and background writing in the whole topic Natasha Lomas from TechCrunch is very good and see here . The idea of filtering started in order to manage quantity and see things we were interested in. Now it has shifted without people really being educated about it. So, we only interact with a few people in our “bubble”. The problem is most people don’t realise this.
How Does Facebook Choose What To Show In News Feed?
Infographic rom TechCrunch 2016
Facebook presents information to us on News Feeds based on many highly personalised factors, the key ones being:
- Who posted it
- When it posted
- Type of content
- Interactions with post
But if you want posts from your friends as it is actually posted, then turn off Top Stories and turn on Most Recent, but it will default back in due course.
Bubbles exist in Google Searches too
Most people now realise that when we Google a term, that we get different results based upon our search history. What concerns people is the information that is hidden rather than that which is shown. All searches on Google Search are associated with a browser cookie record. This began on December 9, 2009 announced by Google here in on this page Personalized Search for everyone . And critiqued and explained well by Danny Sullivan in this article.
Social Media and Fact Checking
Amelia Tait in a recent New Statesman article looked at many of the issues. It’s very difficult to get at the truth, but the Wall Street Journal’s Blue Feed, Red Feed is a fascinating tool giving two sides of a story on Facebook posts. For checking if images are fake this is a great guide from The New Statesman.
Neutral or Unbiased News
In the recent EU Referendum, the BBC was the most trusted source of news according to the Electoral Reform Society with the following figures:
BBC – 34%
Newspapers – 20%
Family – 18%
Social Media – 16%
Friends – 16%
Fake news on social media it’s up to us!
Will Self sums it up beautifully, not someone I always agree with, but I do wholeheartedly here: “If people want to receive all their news from a single feed that constantly and consistently reinforces their beliefs, what are you going to do about it? The current argument is that Facebook’s algorithms reinforce political polarisation, but does anyone really believe better editing on the site will return our troubled present to some prelapsarian past, let alone carry us forward into a brave new factual future? No, we’re all condemned to collude in the inflation of our own filter bubbles unless we actively seek to challenge every piece of received information, theory, or opinion. And what an exhausting business that would be . . . without the internet.” New Statesman Nov 28th 2016 Forget fake news of Facebook – the real filter bubble is you”
People aren’t Stupid
It’s worrying on the face of it, that “news” is manipulated. But people are not stupid. They are presented with a lot of information, not just from social media but on TV and the press, that has highlighted the bias on social media platforms and on Google. The detail when spelled out can seem dramatic, but with relatively little effort we can access TV, radio, newspaper, magazine and other news information from across the political spectrum to gain a balanced view.