Nederlands MediaNetwerk

Because news shouldn't be censored by algorithms

Deze post was eerst gepubliceerd op medium.

I’ve been struggling for days trying to figure out how to start this post. I was even thinking of “click-bate”-like titles such as “How to write an article without sounding marketing-y” (not that I really know, but I thought it’d generate clicks) or “Why the media should diversify”. But, ugh, that just sounds horrible. And, it’s also not why I am writing this post.

To just get it out there: I am writing this post because I want media to work withtopishare, together, to create a space for them where they can push out their content, have real conversations with their audience, generate revenue, and be able to keep on writing stuff we all need to know about without algorithms and Facebook’s whimsical corporate decisions. And all of this for free.



Now, we’ve got the ‘sales-pitch’ with the marketing language out of the way, I can start with the stuff that really matters. At least, to me it does.

And I’m starting with this very on point quote from the Washington Post:

Prioritizing news content based on what your friends like or share furthers the siloing of our news consumption. The Washington Post

And this really bothers me. And it has bothered me for a while. Heck, it’s even one of the reasons we’ve started topishare. (and I have written about this before here).

We need the news to inform us about stuff we might not really like or agree with. But if we want to keep this already polarized world from getting even more polarized, we need to see it. And that’s why Facebook’s algorithms — and I am not just talking about the latest tweaks, I am talking about it in general — are dangerous.



And that’s what the New York Times is worried about as well, even though they’ve signed major deals with Facebook:

These moves highlight a truth that tends to get lost in commentary about the social network’s influence over the news: At Facebook, informing users about the world will always take a back seat to cute pictures of babies. NYT

And Technology review hit the nail on the head why this is such a major issue:

But when faced with the choice between “inclusive” and “engaging,” the company will pick the latter every time. This isn’t a nefarious choice; it’s just business. … But the company has become perhaps the largest single distributor of information on the planet, and it is opting to show people what they like, rather than tackling the much tougher question of what, perhaps, they should see. Technology Review

The role of media, whether or not to some extend with bias, is to inform people what’s going on in the world. So, that when there’s elections, or other important things to decide, we can make a well-informed decision.

Many have been blaming the media for Brexit. But perhaps we should take a look at our Facebook-feeds. The Wall Street Journal did an amazing jobvisualizing the different newsfeeds based on political believes in the States to exemplify this.


Facebook’s latest decision to show people what “they want to see” (nobody asked me by the way, and I prefer to control it myself), will obviously result in either more self-affirming posts, and/or pics of cute cats. And it’s mostly the self-affirming posts that will polarize the world even more.

And that’s why it’s important to read all sides of the story.

But not only that. News isn’t supposed to be something you necessarily would like to see:

In a newsroom, news isn’t just what people want to see, and ideas worth promoting aren’t just those that people click on. News is supposed to exist outside those desires; it’s supposed to be an objective good. NYT

And Wired said:

many of them [media] at least aspire to something approaching objectivity, or at least offer dissenting views. And they cover topics and write stories that aren’t necessarily fun to share — make way for nuanced geopolitical analysis! — but are vital to understanding the world outside own small slice of it. Wired

So, let’s break this down.



An insanely large part of the world’s population is on Facebook. And of that insanely large part, many use Facebook as their primary source for news. Yes, that’s scary. And The Guardian explains us why:

But when you log onto Facebook, every post you see is the result of a decision made by a person employed at a company that posted $5.38bn in revenue in the first quarter of this year. A person who is likely concerned with their company’s bottom line. Facebook needs you to forget that fact, but you shouldn’t. The Guardian

Because, obviously what happens is that Facebook will:

favor entertainment-based stories and viral hits above more boring-but-important news such as public policy initiatives. Mashable

And is that something we really want?



Because of Facebook’s massive user-base, it has a major power in deciding what it wants to show or not. And in the recent years everyone who has a page, may it be media, business, or non-profit, has seen a decline in their organic reach. In other words, they can’t reach the people who are interested in hearing from them, unless they pay Facebook, and even then they can only reach a small proportion of the people who’ve already liked their page…

And, as you can understand, the media isn’t to happy about that either:

At a time when the relationship between publishers and Facebook is already tense, any change that de-emphasizes news content is likely to deepen concern. And Facebook’s move will be just another reminder that publishers do not have direct access to their online audiences on social platforms.NYT

And that while Facebook is one of the main channels used by media outlets:

how should news companies think about ever deeper partnerships with Facebook, in some instances relying on the company as a primary part of their business models, if Facebook is disclaiming news as its main mission — and is also promising to keep changing the news feed as it sees fit? NYT

That doesn’t even take into account the already long decreasing organic reach seen by media through Facebook:

The Huffington Post, for example, saw a 60 percent decline in its Facebook referrals from the beginning of 2015 to November 2015, while BuzzFeed’s Facebook referrals fell by more than 40 percent. … Wednesday’s announcement shows just how fragile the entire industry is in Facebook’s hands. Vanity Fair


Media companies publishing to Facebook are reaching 42 per cent fewer people with each story since January. Financial Times

And that has some consequences. Because media can only exist if they’re being read. And by being read, I mean people seeing their articles, clicking on them, going to their website, and reading them.

The media industry is on some pretty shaky ground these days, with advertising revenue and readers both disappearing faster than an ice cream cone on a July afternoon. Fortune

An the TechTimes and Recode touch upon a very crucial matter: if you’re big and got a some nice advertising budget, well, you’ll just have to spend some more dough. But the more little fish will suffer the most:

And so, Facebook’s love-hate relationship with publishers continues, with more love being shown to the cool kids who can pay for a wider reach. TechTimes


tweaking the algorithm is a clear business move. If organic reach decreases for publishers, they may be more likely to pay Facebook to promote a post instead.Recode



Still with me? That’s great.

Because, that was a lot of words (and even more quotes) on why ‘putting your eggs in one basket” just isn’t too smart.

Now, as I mentioned at the start of this post, topishare is open to partnerships with media outlets to design together a platform where media and its readers/viewers are again in control over what’s shared, seen, and interacted with. We’re currently working with EurasianetCodaStory, and Chaikhana, creating what it is they need/want for their organization.

So, what is it that we offer?

Basically: anything you want or need. For free.


But let me break down some of the possibilities we’ve brainstormed about tackling the all important questions of ‘how to drive more traffic to your site’, ‘how to be able to keep on paying for journalists doing real journalism stuff’, ‘how to keep sensitive information secure’, ‘how to avoid censored content’, and more (all algorithm free!):

OUTREACH

Just some stuff we came up with: Embed the Kingdom on your website for instant conversations on your story •Co-create stories • Crowd-source stories • Co-design animated stories • Live-feed discussions • Fact check instantly with (citizen) experts.

REVENUE MODELS

Ads only aren’t really working this well, we can think of ways how to get you the revenue to pay for your journalists’ work. Maybe you’d like readers/viewers to pay you for story ideas before they’ve even started? Or reward you for the stories you’ve put out there? Give subscribers exclusive live-streaming access? Or whatever it is you think works best for you.

SECRECY

Now, being media is more than just reaching out. It needs coordination, fact-checking, reliable sources, and a safe place where you can share sensitive information you don’t want to be accessed by who-ever-it-is that you don’t want to see it. Meaning, we will provide secret encrypted Kingdoms for you to create your own online Newsroom, easy to use for your journos, and safely reachable for whistle-blowers and other sources whose identity needs to be protected. This is a feature we will only offer our trusted partners.




But hey, this is just what we came up with, and we’re not the media. So, do we really know? That’s why we want to hear from you, talk to you, brainstorm with you, and build for you whatever it is you need/want. So I guess, what do you have to loose?

As I am a real person, I also have a real email address, so hit me up if this sounds interesting via inge@topishare.com. Or just leave your email address here: https://topishare.com/ext/landing/media/.


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