It will be interesting to see if Facebook actually actively changed it “trending topics” statistics. That said, it is really disturbing how this question about the integrity of “trending topics” statistics is being handled. The Gizmodo article does not provide the names of any of their sources, and yet articles that I have read (that just seem to be parroting or even worse amplifying what was reported by Gizmodo) are fanning a fire that isn’t even clearly, yet, confirmed. The New York Times printed an article (“Facebook’s Bias is Built-In and Bears Watching”) that doesn’t seem to come to the conclusion that is suggested by the headline.
The author flip flops stating: “Many people believe that what you see on Facebook represents some kind of data-mined objective truth unmolested by the subjective attitudes of fair-and-balanced human beings.”, continuing “None of that is true.” without ever supporting that statement. In fact, later in the article he writes: “There is no evidence Facebook is doing anything so alarming now.”
This points up two problems:
- The news media, even the best of them, are so worried about being left behind that they have to print something, and apparently what they print has to have a certain minimum number of words. This leads to a firestorm rather than a rational investigation into what is actually going on.
- It is getting increasingly difficult to decide, even by people who should know, when a news story has substance and when it is not well supported. There are lots of examples of stories that were printed and proliferated that had, at best, real issues with the truth.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that if Facebook is manipulating the numbers, they should be held accountable, but I also believe that the media should too. And, it is just too easy for the media to do an incompetent job and then assert mea culpa.
While there are many things that are laudable about the speed with which news proliferates, we really need to think about some of the downsides. And, this topic deserves some serious thought and agreed codes of conduct—at least for the responsible (and therefore trusted) media.