The media today: ‘I’m very mad at Mark Zuckerberg’

Image: AP

Conversations about algorithmic curation of news, whether on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit, typically happen between industry experts: publishers, journalists, and tech companies. Less is known about how everyday news consumers understand news curation. It turns out they have a lot to say.

The Tow Center for Digital Journalism conducted 13 focus groups about media diet with news consumers aged 18 to 65 from four cities around the US: Bowling Green, Kentucky; Elkhart, Indiana; New York; and San Francisco. Full results from the focus groups are available here.

Participants repeatedly and organically brought up algorithms—the little black boxes that control which news they receive via social platforms. One participant in Elkhart described the moment she awakened to Facebook’s algorithm: “I found out they were following me enough that they only sent me the stuff that I clicked on. I wasn’t getting both sides of the story… They were just following me and giving me sugar when I was really looking for more… They were skewing the news to what I had picked. They personalized it… and that’s not why I was there. I was there to get information that was different or a different viewpoint than I was getting, and I’m very mad at Mark Zuckerberg.”

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The researchers came away convinced that algorithmic transparency is more urgent than ever. Another key takeaway for platforms, highlighted by Tow Director Emily Bell, is that “respondents did not see the spread of misinformation as the fault of those who shared it, but as the responsibility of the platforms that showed it to them.”

 

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Nausicaa Renner is digital editor of CJR.