Facebook in the News: Social media, journalism, and public responsibility following the 2016 Trending Topics controversy

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Abstract

In May 2016, two stories on Facebook’s Trending Topics news feature appeared on the site Gizmodo, the first exposing the human curators working surreptitiously to select news and the second containing accusations that certain curators censored conservative voices. These revelations led to public outcry, mostly from conservatives upset at possible bias and journalists critical of Facebook for its largely secretive and haphazard approach to news. This study examines the response to the controversy as metajournalistic discourse—talk about news that seeks to define appropriate practices and legitimate news forms. It identifies a fundamental divergence in the public articulation of Facebook’s role in the larger news ecosystem. Facebook reacted to the controversy by formulating an approach to news as a form of content that, like other content on the site, should be personalized, organized according to popularity in the form of user engagement, and free of editorial control from the social media site. By contrast, journalists positioned news as purposively selected and shared while placing Facebook as an active participant within the news ecosystem and therefore beholden to an enhanced institutional commitment to public responsibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4-20
Number of pages17
JournalDigital Journalism
Volume6
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2 2018
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • algorithms
  • journalism
  • metajournalistic discourse
  • social media

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