Jun 30, 2016

    Social media controls what you read: survey


    WHEN allegations emerged that Facebook was skewing its trending news stories, many learnt about it... on Facebook.

    That underscored the rapid shift in media - not only is news moving from print to digital but Facebook, Google and other tech platforms are increasingly becoming the main gateways for information.

    Technology and social media firms are increasingly playing a role in filtering and delivering news, often with automated feeds, algorithms and "bots" designed to determine the most relevant articles.

    That means the news industry is rapidly losing control of the news along with the revenue that goes with it, underscoring the profound changes in the journalism world.

    "In the past 18 months, companies including Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Snapchat and Google have moved from having an arm's length relationship with journalism to being dominant forces in the news ecosystem," said a June report by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

    "By encouraging news publishers to post directly onto new channels, such as Facebook Instant Articles and Snapchat Discover, tech companies are now actively involved in every aspect of journalism."

    As newspapers' financial woes deepen, most revenue from online news in the United States is going to five big tech companies, according to a Pew Research Center survey released this month.

    The poll underscored a changing relationship between readers and the news. Unlike traditional newspapers where editors determine the most important stories, social platforms are "crowdsourcing" feeds based on how often their users click on stories.

    Global trends are similar.

    A survey across 26 countries by Oxford University's

    Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found 51 per cent of respondents indicating they use social media for news.

    Facebook was, by far, the most important source, used by 44 per cent in the total survey.

    While some see the development as a democratisation of information, a number of analysts say it can dramatically alter the quality of news.

    News organisations are joining the wave of social news even if it means a loss of editorial control, said Dan Kennedy, journalism professor at Northeastern University.

    "You really have no idea what people are going to see and it may be more likely readers will see something rather trivial from your news organisation rather than major news," he added.

    The news selection process at Facebook is largely "machine-based", chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said.

    However, there is some human intervention, she added, "because without that, every day at noon, lunch would be trending".