What social media needs to learn from traditional media

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October 10 1999, Los Angeles Times We ran a special issue of Sunday Magazine dedicated to the opening of Staples Center Arena in downtown Los Angeles. Apparently unknown Times The editorial team, including the authors and editors who organized the magazine, signed a contract with the owner of the Staples Center to share the profits from the ads sold in this issue.

They rebelled when the staff learned of the arrangement. More than 300 journalists and editors have signed a petition asking the publisher to apologize. In a sweeping 12-part post-mortem analysis, the newspaper’s media critic David Shaw said: Times The newsroom sees the Staples affair as the highly visible and ugly tip of a disturbing proportion of ethical icebergs. It is essential to increase profits and share prices, which can damage the quality, integrity and reputation of print journalism. This agreement violates one of the most sacred tenets of serious journalism and is sometimes referred to as a “firewall” or separation of church and state. Business units should not influence editorial decisions.

Things have changed a lot in the decades since the Staples Center incident. Social media has become a major forum for discourse and the dissemination of information. Executives of social media companies say they are not publishers, but simply technical channels for user-generated content. Yet at the same time, they proudly display their important role in modern communication and access to information. The decisions they make about who needs to see what material have the biggest impact. Los Angeles Times You may have dreamed.

However, the social media industry has yet to clarify the philosophy of how to balance the pursuit of ad revenue with other social values. Facebook, in particular, does not appear to have a separation between church and state. Explosive research series The Wall Street Journal Last week, we provided new evidence of what happens when nothing prevents companies from turning off the people working on quality control. In some cases newspaper Internal researchers have reportedly studied some changes to news feed ranking algorithms designed to improve “meaningful social interaction.” When the change was introduced, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said publicly that it was “the right thing” at the expense of user engagement and time spent on the app. However, the researchers found that features, including amplification of messages most likely to be reshared, incorrectly amplified “misinformation, toxicity, and violent content.” I understand. According to the document reviewed by newspaperWhen Facebook’s chief integrity officer suggested a solution to the company’s business, Zuckerberg, he refused to implement it. He didn’t want to sacrifice user engagement.

In response to these stories, Facebook points out that it has increased its investments in content security and moderation in recent years. In this week’s press release, “We hired 40,000 people working on safety and security, up from 35,000 in 2019 and quadrupled from 10,000 in 2016.” (By the way, that’s about 1 employee per 71,000 users.) But newspaper Other reports repeatedly show that these teams are dismissed at critical times, as decisions about security, content moderation and enforcement are made by executives responsible for business growth and lobbying. . I am. In other words, Facebook needs its own version of the journalistic firewall.

In fact, the lessons social media companies should learn from traditional media are much broader. The most interesting thing about the separation of church and state in journalism is that it is voluntary. Newspapers do not require federal law to block the advertising activity of press decisions. This is a value embodied in the 1920s when American journalists took an objective, non-partisan approach to the press. As historian Michael Shadson explains in his book News Discovery: Social History of American NewspapersThis was an important moment in the specialization of journalism. Reporters and editors “have accepted the definition of the meaning of independence vis-à-vis the state and the market.” In theory, nothing prevents Jeff Bezos from intervening. Washington PostOwned by him, covers the Amazon he founded. In reality, he would risk a wave of resignations and a significant dilution of value. directorMark. Self-respecting journalists don’t want readers to think they are bidding for sponsors. (For all accounts, Bezos has meticulously passed the baton since purchasing the paper in 2013.)


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