Facebook can be greater by becoming more journalistic

Facebook can be greater by becoming more journalistic

In the Social Good Summit organized by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Istanbul on Sept. 29, we spoke to Head of Public Policy, Facebook in Turkey, Nilay Erdem, on the topic, “Facebook for Good: Is it only a toy?” 

In this short interview, she said Facebook was of course not a toy played by 1.7 billion people in the world. There are social goods of Facebook from blood donor announcements to several corruption cases disclosed with the help of Facebook networks in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia.  

In the world, half of the population that has internet access has a Facebook account; whereas this figure for Turkey is 97 percent. According to data provided by Facebook Turkey Director Derya Matraş, out of the total 43 million users in Turkey, 30 million of them open their account every day. In other words, Turks are the most active users. 

Daily Hürriyet is one of the first newspapers in the world that make regular Facebook Live broadcasts. We have a live broadcast almost every day of the week. For the last six months, about 2.5 million people watched our more than 50 programs. There has been tens of thousands of comments and shares. Our most watched programs are at 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays with #SoruHürriyeti, Wednesdays with #OnlarBunuKonuşuyor and again Fridays with #CanlıCanlı.

These live Facebook broadcasts have the conventional function of providing information to our readers but also with the opportunities provided by the new media, they are influencing us; which is the real social good here: Our readers shape us more than we shape them.

For instance, last May, we were hosting daily Hürriyet’s former editor-in-chief and current writer, Ertuğrul Özkök, at a live broadcast of #SoruHürriyeti, when our readers asked us to talk about Kilis, Özkök first answered questions on the topic, then with the effect of this feedback, we visited Kilis with a Hürriyet team recording life in this town under the threat of ISIL rockets. We broadcast a 360° video on our Facebook and YouTube accounts.
Hürriyet as a legacy publisher has harmonized the dynamics of the new media, but many giants of the new media have not yet adopted the principles that have been formed over 400 years.

Contrary to Twitter, each post on Facebook is not shown to all your followers (a friend or the one who “likes” on Facebook). Which post should be shown to whom is done by an algorithm arbitrarily by Facebook and Facebook keeps this algorithm a secret. 

This algorithm, as research in Indiana University has shown, shares false stories as fast as true stories. When Facebook fired its “human editors” recently and left the job to algorithms, the number of these kinds of false stories increased.

Facebook’s “publishing principles” that are called “community standards” are as arbitrary as its algorithm. 
It immediately deletes a historic picture of an American bombardment in Vietnam or a mother’s photo breastfeeding her child on grounds of “nudity.”

While Facebook becomes the new gatekeeper, it does not adequately adopt the lessons legacy publishers have drawn from their 400 years of experience. 

The solution is for today’s distribution platforms (mostly social media companies) to adopt the tested principles and methods of journalism rather than arbitrary and populist criteria. 

For instance, Facebook should test how much the content has been shared as much as its real and historic significance. For this, the “truth and accuracy” principle, the most basic principle of journalism, should be integrated into the algorithm as well as Facebook’s principles.  

Another issue we have to solve concerning the social good of social media is polarization. Content, which is similar to the stories that we like the most on Facebook, are presented to us more.
Our social environment becomes filled with people who think like us. This situation may speed up the separation of society into opposing camps. 

A solution could be to include opposing voices in the “feed” for the sake of the “fairness" principle of journalism. For instance, the algorithms should show a counterview from the opposition besides a story which includes the view of the government; or vice versa. 

In a panel I attended on Sept. 5-6 in Slovenia at the Bled Strategy Forum with Ethical Journalism Network CEO Aidan White, we reached the conclusion to encourage Facebook to ensure the algorithm is supported by journalistic principles. The International Press Instıtute (IPI) is preparing to support steps in that direction before the United Nations, Council of Europe and UNESCO.

Of course, in a country where more than 120 journalists are in prison and more than 110,000 websites are blocked, it may sound a bit like a luxury to talk about Facebook's impact on media freedoms.