Facebook and other media must make room for diversity of
When Facebook prioritises friends and
family in your news feed it may commit editorial bias.
Mark Zuckerberg remarked at the launch
of Facebook Watch, a YouTube style content video channel: "Watching
a show doesn't have to be passive. It can be a chance to share an
experience and bring people together who care about the same
Thus at a stroke, he adopts for
Facebook a couple of the strongest attributes of TV on the box now
and in the past: the water cooler moment and commonalities of
interest. What a perfect description of watching Coronation Street
or Morecambe and Wise in the last century - and still what great TV
from Game of Thrones to The X Factor can offer.
Facebook's intention for Watch is user
generated content of course. "Watch is a platform for all creators
and publishers to find an audience, build a community of passionate
fans, and earn money for their work," said director of product
Other media have warned of the perils
of too much shared interest. The Guardian commented: "Whilst the
'things' that bring people together can be cute videos of kids
bossing chefs around, Zuckerberg makes no mention of the
possibility those things might also be a shared hatred of a
minority or religious group."
Of course no one has any intention,
especially this blog, of endorsing hate content, yet we can
recognise that shared loves and shared dislikes are a common human
bias. It is what we all do. Everyone can criticise editors who they
disagree with and faceless algorithms of unconscious bias, of not
giving a fair and balanced picture of all the sides of an argument.
All successful media do a version of this. This is in effect what
has always made media owners successful: a point of view that
reassures you that you're not alone.
You've always known what it means to
describe a room full of Mirror readers or Telegraph readers. This
is a simple way of characterising a point of view, and a set of
people who are more alike in values than different.
Those values are what attract people
to the brand in the first place.
This is unsurprising. It taps into the
basic human need to associate with "people like me", after all a
primeval survival instinct. (If you disagree with the rest of the
tribe, they are unlikely to bother rescuing you from a sabre tooth
tiger or grizzly bear attack.
Most people go much further of course
than simply seeking reassurance of their views and biases in the
media. They seek out people who agree with them to spend time with.
It's one definition of friendship: shared values and reassuring
Not everyone does this all the time.
We try and discourage it at MediaCom. There used to be a poster in
MediaCom's old office which I am thinking of re-issuing. It showed
dogs and cats and mice working productively together with the
slogan: "I hate you; you're hired". Its intention was to point out
that diversity of opinion makes you stronger and that a good
argument with a thesis, antithesis and synthesis, gets you better
decisions, as Dave Trott points out in a recent blog.
When Facebook prioritises friends and
family in your news and content feed it may commit editorial bias.
It is serving you opinions that are likely to agree with your own.
As John Simpson pointed out in his review of 20th century
journalism Unreliable Sources, this is nothing new. He describes
the age-old tension between the view of the reporter, often bravely
trying to be as accurate as possible, the demands of the
proprietor, and the necessity of selling copies which required
stories to be popular and fly off the newsstands - in other words
to report opinions that broadly agree with most readers.
Any critique of Facebook's popular
approach must accept that it is largely how popular media has
always worked. Facebook is just better at doing it personalised at
For a stronger, more balanced society,
and for a stronger, more successful workplace, we need to encourage
not just diversity of gender and personal attributes, but also
diversity of thought.
By Sue Unerman,chief