More than 80% of teens get health news and information online. 61% of millennials cite Facebook as being their primary source of political news. It is no surprise that with teens spending so much time online, websites and social media are going to be where they get their news.
One hot spot for finding out what people are talking about right now is Facebook’s Trending news section. If you’re familiar with how Facebook organizes what you see, you won’t be surprised at the fact that your feed, and the Trending section, are largely driven by algorithms – computer programs that rank and sort information. In the case of Trending, not exclusively though. Facebook employs journalist editors, and this week an article at Gizmodo revealed, after they interviewed several former (disgruntled?) Facebook news staffers, that:
“workers prevented stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the highly-influential section, even though they were organically trending among the site’s users… they were instructed to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all.”
Facebook is free to do what they want, even as some journalists are calling for them to own up to the fact that they are a media outlet, and therefore should be fair and balanced. Facebook has denied the allegations. We don’t expect them to change how they drive advertising dollars any time soon, and don’t expect Fox News or CNN to change either.
Back to what your teens are reading, and where they are getting their news… We don’t know for sure how aggressively Facebook is deciding which “news” users see, but your teens should be aware that they might be doing just that. We’d rather teens decide for themselves what is important, and not leave things to an algorithm or a human, potentially biased editor.
In the same way that it is important for young internet users to recognize and ad when they see one, it is important for them to be critical of any information that might be biased, of information sources that control what you see.
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