New York Times CEO: Facebook’s Approach to News ‘Profoundly Dangerous’ for Democracy
WASHINGTON –New York Times CEO Mark Thompson called Facebook’s process of defining “broadly trusted” news sources “profoundly dangerous” for the news business and democratic debate.
“We face an immediate threat here which is that Facebook’s catalogue of missteps with data and extreme and hateful content will lead it into a naïve attempt to set itself up as the digital world’s editor-in-chief, prioritizing and presumably downgrading and rejecting content on a survey and data-driven assessment of whether the provider of the content is ‘broadly trusted’ or not,” Thompson said recently at the Open Markets Institute conference.
“Now, you might expect The New York Times to favor such a scheme. Indeed, Mark Zuckerberg, whose idea this seems to be, told us the Times should expect to do well in such a ranking. In fact, we regard the concept of ‘broadly trusted’ as a sinister one, which misunderstands the role journalism plays in an open society and is likely to lead to damage and distort, not just the news business, but democratic debate,” he added.
Thompson continued, “Democracy depends in part on unbounded competition between different journalistic perspectives and the clash of different judgments and opinions. History suggests that mainstream news organizations frequently get it right, but also that, not infrequently, it is the outliers who should be listened to.”
“At any given moment, think of mainstream media today in Russia, or in continental Europe in the ’20s and ’30s – a majority of the public may judge trustworthiness incorrectly.”
To filter out “fake news” from appearing on its platform, Facebook has started to “prioritize news from publications that the community rates as trustworthy.”
“We surveyed a diverse and representative sample of people using Facebook across the U.S. to gauge their familiarity with, and trust in, various different sources of news. This data will help to inform ranking in News Feed,” read an official Facebook announcement earlier this year. “We’ll start with the U.S. and plan to roll this out internationally in the future.”
Thompson argued that Facebook’s approach is wrong and could lead to more fake news.
“To feed transient majority sentiment about trust back into the editorial decision-making process – and to do it essentially behind closed doors – is profoundly dangerous,” he said. “The process of citizens making up their own mind which news source to believe is messy, and can indeed lead to ‘fake news,’ but to rob them of that ability, and to replace the straightforward accountability of editors and publishers for the news they produce with a centralized trust algorithm will not make democracy healthier but damage it further.”
Thompson said he is in favor of “full transparency about both algorithmic and human editorial selection” done by digital platforms such as Facebook and Google.