Facebook’s recent changes to its algorithms affecting how news will – or more accurately won’t – be displayed in users’ feeds are widely expected to have a restrictive impact on the diversity of what people will see on the platform.
His latest changes – prioritising ‘trusted’ news – will have the effect of homogenising the content that reaches readers and reducing the overall amount of news that users see. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s own announcement of the changes raises serious and troubling questions:
The changes will reduce the news that people see overall by 20% – but Zuckerberg’s statement that ‘the community’ will decide what constitutes ‘trusted’ are problematic – which community?
Who can be trusted to decide who can be trusted?
Labour activist @scousegirlmedia ran a Twitter poll this weekend, asking which of four (the maximum number of options Twitter allows in a poll) news sources were most trusted by those who saw and chose to take the survey:
While the results were gratifying, with ‘new left media’ taking 70% of the vote overall, it’s clear that the ‘sample’ of 2,560 people who took it are not necessarily representative. If a Tory or one of the numerous ‘centrists’ who hate the ‘NLM’ and the SKWAWKBOX in particular, were to issue a similar poll the results would almost certainly be dramatically different.
One platform, two different ‘communities’, completely different results – so which one would Facebook listen to on its own platform?
The ‘wisdom’ of the herd?
If, as appears to be the case from Zuckerberg’s statement, Facebook will measure only ‘the community’, that is the whole of Facebook as a ‘herd’, the chances are that only the main ‘establishment’ sources would register on the scale of trustworthiness – and the end effect of these changes will be an algorithmic censorship of dissent.
Whether by design or accident, this will hugely favour the status quo and disadvantage voices of change.
One Twitter user, recognising the significance of these changes, was pithy in response:
May’s rapid censorship unit
On top of Zuckerberg’s news comes Theresa May’s announcement of the formation of an ‘online rapid response unit’:
According to the Sunday Times, the unit’s purpose will be to:
stop fake news spreading online
But the paper focuses on ‘fake news’ that is:
damaging to the Conservative Party, the government or both
Considering that many anti-establishment activists believe that the main sources of fake news are ‘the Conservative Party, the government’ and the so-called ‘MSM’, the fitness of a new government unit to declare what is real news and what is fake is extremely questionable.
Unholy Trinity, dirty dozen?
Add to that the news that Facebook, Google and Twitter all testified to a Senate panel in the US last week about the tens of thousands of staff they and over a dozen other platforms have dedicated specifically to censorship – nominally for security purposes but also to weed out ‘oppositional’ content.
Take all these things together – especially alongside comments about security and Establishment-defined ‘fake news’ – and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the entrenched ‘powers that be’ in the political and corporate spheres are well along the road to establishing subtle but comprehensive censorship that will rival the more overt versions imposed on citizens in China.
This trend renders urgent the need for independent media, their supporters and activists for genuine change to plan and co-operate to create and maintain alternative, non-corporate media/social media platforms to ensure that we can all issue, access and share the information that we want and that the Establishment wants to keep from us.
The stated purpose of the SKWAWKBOX is to bring its readers the news that the Establishment doesn’t want you to see – and the other ‘new left media’ are no different. The effectiveness of these ‘NLM’ is well-documented and it frightens those with a vested interest in maintaining the unequal, exploitative status quo.
Their attempts to choke off the dissenting voices are ramping up dramatically – almost without acknowledgement of their purpose by the supposedly ‘mainstream’ media, who couch the changes in language of ‘security’, ‘trust’ or ‘fake news’.
Those who want real change, or who simply value freedom of expression and our rights to choose for ourselves what we trust, need to spread awareness of what’s happening – and to be just as determined to maintain those rights and freedoms as the Establishment is to curtail or end them.
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