If that cute kid who used to deliver your paper on his bike was stealing your mail and sending it to the KGB, or worse yet, peeping in your windows and selling the play-by-play to telemarketers so they could hound you more effectively, you would have kicked that kid off your route immediately. But you probably would have kept the paper, because it was easy to separate out the misdeeds of the delivery boy from the news product itself.
It’s a little harder to separate when we’re talking about pixels instead of precocious 10-year-olds, but it shouldn’t be.
Pre-internet newspapers made big profits because they owned the distribution system. They invested in big, expensive presses to print ads. The ads were surrounded by news stories, reported by journalists following professional guidelines and selected by editors, which gave readers some incentive to go look through the paper. We paid the cute kid on the bike to bring the paper to your doorstep every day. You read it, so you knew what was going on in the world and made smarter decisions. It was a virtuous cycle — good for business, good for democracy.
Now, instead of doorstep, most people get their news on a smartphone. For about 70 percent of our digital readers, the kid on the bike has been replaced by Google and Facebook. Their business model is much the same: Advertisers reach you because you’re on a platform, and you’re on a platform to get something that resembles “news.”
But the delivery and the news are now two completely separate services. This was underscored at last week’s congressional hearings where Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained Facebook doesn’t consider itself a “publisher” because it does not “fund” or “commission” most of the content on its site. In other words, Facebook is just the delivery service.
Facebook is constantly retooling to keep people on its sites longer by serving up more stories they are interested in. It’s dangerous because its model is built on giving you what you want to see rather than what you need to know, as if the kid on the bike delivered only the funny bits and threw the rest of the paper in the trash. You see what you see online because that’s what the platform saw you were into when it peeped in your windows to check you out.
We’ve been talking about “filter bubbles” for nearly a decade. Facebook’s current woes are the ultimate exploitation of that problem. A foreign government was able to use the algorithms to serve up divisive claptrap and subvert real news to potentially undermine an election cycle. They did it so insidiously millions of people don’t even know if the facts they hold to be true really are.
Whose fault is that? Zuckerberg? News media for not adapting to a digital business model 20 years ago?
Maybe it’s yours.
After the most recent Facebook revelations, we thought perhaps our digital readers might jilt it. So, we ran a survey for our Facebook and Twitter followers asking if they’re giving up on social media and how they intend to get their news in the future. We wanted to make sure professionally sourced and vetted news about our neighborhoods was getting to the people who live here. Fewer than 1 percent of our readers responded, but the underwhelming response was this: We like Facebook and if the news isn’t there, we won’t seek it out.
Maybe readers don’t care if both their privacy and their news is compromised as long as it tells them what they want to hear or it’s easy to get. That’s sad and dangerous.
If you do care, you can seek out ways to make sure real news and not propaganda is in your feed. The best way to support newsrooms is to get your news directly. Bookmark a home page. Download an app. Sign up for an email newsletter. Pick a newspaper and pay for either a digital or a print subscription. Evangelize the work of real journalists by sharing stories with your friends and family.
You don’t have to indulge the delivery boy to get a responsible news report.
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Toni Sciacqua is the managing editor for digital for the Southern California News Group.
Note from WSOE.Org : This content has been auto-generated from a syndicated feed.