Excerpts from the article published in the Wierd
Government regulation will never fix everything wrong with online discourse.
The social media industry needs to develop professional norms—just as journalism once did. The social media industry has yet to articulate a philosophy of how the pursuit of advertising revenue
The social media industry has yet to articulate a philosophy of how the pursuit of advertising revenue should be balanced against other social values. Facebook, in particular, does not appear to have anything like a separation of church and state.
An explosive investigative series in The Wall Street Journal last week provided fresh evidence of what happens when there’s nothing preventing the business side from overriding the people working on quality control. In one case, the Journal reported, researchers inside the company studied certain changes to the News Feed ranking algorithm that had been designed to increase “meaningful social interactions.”
When the changes were introduced, CEO Mark Zuckerberg had publicly declared they were the “right thing” to do, even if they sacrificed user engagement and time spent on the app.
The researchers, however, found that the features, which included amplifying posts deemed most likely to be reshared, inadvertently ended up boosting “misinformation, toxicity, and violent content.”
According to documents reviewed by the Journal, when a leader from Facebook’s integrity department proposed a solution to the company’s business department—that is, to Zuckerberg—he declined to implement it. He didn’t want to sacrifice user engagement.
In fact, the lesson social media companies should take from traditional media is much broader. The most interesting thing about journalism’s separation of church and state is that it’s self-imposed. No federal statute says a newspaper must keep its advertising operations walled off from coverage decisions.
It’s a value that crystallized in the 1920s, when American journalists adopted a commitment to objective, nonpartisan reporting. As historian Michael Schudson explains in his book Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers, this was a key moment in the professionalization of journalism, as reporters and editors “accepted a definition of what it meant to be independent from the state and the market.”
In theory, nothing is stopping Jeff Bezos from interfering with how The Washington Post, which he owns, covers Amazon, which he founded. In practice, he’d be risking a wave of resignations and a major dilution of the value of the Post’s brand. No self-respecting reporter wants readers to think they’re doing the bidding of the sponsor. (By all accounts, Bezos has been scrupulously hands-off since buying the paper in 2013.)