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An ongoing dilemma: Facebook as a news source

June 18, 2017

reading the phone

Photo: Seniju (CC)

I get a lot of news from Facebook. Some of it directly from peers (a dog is loose in the neighborhood; a wreck is blocking the interstate). Some of it from media outlets and brands, and most of it via links to outside sites.

I don’t recall when I signed up 12 years ago if I expected it to become a primary source of news for me. But here we are.

Having worked in the news biz, I’ve paid close attention to how people stay informed, and how a certain percentage simply isn’t interested in the news (current events, financial markets, international incidents, celebrity gossip and the like). We’ve had newspapers, newsletters, magazines, television, radio, websites and email bulletins. Now, we have apps, text alerts, social media, comedians, bots, foreign agents, forums and groups, podcasts, content farms and fake news purveyors.

These are confusing times.

Singling out Facebook is easy: It’s the biggest platform and still one of the busiest, even if the average age of users continues to climb. Depending on who you ask, it shaped the 2016 U.S. elections (many people) or had no influence whatsoever (says founder Mark Zuckerberg).

Certainly, bloggers and news outlets have tried time and again to leverage the channel to build traffic and to make money. It’s made Facebook very rich and left most of us struggling for everyone’s attention.

We can’t rely on Facebook to police the news feed. It goes against the company’s economic interests, and its record is spotty at best, whether relying on algorithms or humans or both. We can’t rely on each other: We all have connections who lack common sense and critical thinking skills.

And we can’t rely on ourselves. We lack perspective. We live in filter bubbles. We have confirmation bias. We misjudge our intelligence and gullibility.

Here’s what we can do:

  1. Stop using Facebook, or at least, stop relying on it for news.
  2. Stop watching 24-hour cable news.
  3. Read a book. Preferably one that expands our horizons or challenges our most deeply held beliefs.

Facebook is simply a new twist on an old problem: Consumers staying informed while weeding out the junk. The platform makes it easier to share, but we’re still stuck with sorting out what matters, what rings true and what harms everyone.

More on Facebook’s efforts to reform.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2017 10:28 pm

    Facebook definitely is a flawed source for news. PEW research recently found that among the 1.94 billion monthly active users on Facebook, unfortunately only a third find news from multiple sources, with 66% getting news on domestic and world event from Facebook. This leads to a really troublesome scenario, whereby users understanding and perspective on the news is placed solely in the hands of a social media platform. This leads to incredibly dangerous situations whereby the algorithm that presents users with content selective displays information based off what the recommender system believes the users will positively engage with. All this leads to a world where we need to encourage people to look else where for information.


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