By Kevin O'Keefe

We are the editors of our news from social media


With so few people reading a newspaper or watching the nightly news, social media is more apt to bring the news to most people today.

But we cannot rely on Twitter and Facebook to bring us the news and information we’d like to see. We have to choose our friends, the people who bring us the news, wisely and use these media enough to let them know what we’re looking for.

Emily Bell (@emilybell), Director of Tow Centre for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, writes in the Guardian this morning that we can’t let tech giants, like Facebook and Twitter, control our news values.

Bell would apparently blame Facebook for bringing someone fluff, as opposed to “the news.”

Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci noted after the riots in Ferguson that although many news items were being posted to Facebook, she initially saw none of them in her feed, just ice bucket challenges. That led her to speculate that algorithmic filtering could potentially mute important stories.

In the case of Twitter, Bell cites its censorship of ISIS accounts as an example of editorial control.

Inside a newsroom, these decisions are called editorial judgments; outside, they are labelled censorship. The truth is both are forms of censorship, and equally both could be argued to be editing.

Bell’s right that we need a technology driven editor.

It is impossible for humans to filter efficiently the vast numbers of images, videos, tweets and updates created and shared by humans, bots and devices.

Bell argues that “transparency and accountability have to accompany the vast, important role our key information providers now play in society.” That in the days ahead it will apparently be up to Facebook and Twitter to bring us “the news” and not the fluff.

Facebook’s algorithms work pretty well and are only going to improve. But you need to choose friends from social and business circles whom you think will add value to your life. Value being the things you’d like to see in news, information, and socially.

You also need to send signals to Facebook so its algorithms can go to work for you. Signals meaning comments, likes, and shares. If you are not “working” Facebook, how can you expect Facebook to deliver you a News Feed you”ll find of value?

I am new to Facebook. Heck, we all are. But the more I use it, the better the news and information I get. I choose as friends lawyers and other professionals, business people, speakers, authors, news reporters, technologists, and personal friends.

I like, comment and share regularly. I am learning and meeting interesting people more than I have before. I also get hard news and commentary quickly – including news on Ferguson. My Facebook News Feed is not filled with fluff.

Twitter is just beginning to play with algorithms to tailor information for us. Until now we’ve received just items shared by users we follow. It works pretty well. I discovered the Ferguson unrest on that Sunday via Twitter and was then able to follow live reports by following the #Ferguson tag.

Though there is going to be censorship of “inappropriate” items by Twitter, Twitter has a record of championing free speech. Probably more so than newsrooms of old.

As Vint Cerf, recognized as one of the fathers of the Internet and cited by Bell, says News Corp trucks and Tesco are now longer principal sources of news, “It is an algorithm governing how items are displayed to the billion active users on Facebook.”

But we ought not be looking to hold Facebook and Twitter accountable for news. We’re going to have to be accountable this time by carefully selecting those we follow and using these media enough to let their algorithms work for us.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Nat Welch

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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