Vakil: Northwestern students should not rely on Facebook as news source


Caroline Vakil, Columnist

In a world where social media sites drive our news cycle, it’s both shocking and terrifying how reliant we are on the information we receive from sites like Facebook and Twitter. With 66 percent of American adults using Facebook, about 41 percent get their news from the website, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center study.

That’s probably normal given how many of us use Facebook, right? Of course it is. However, although social media sites like Facebook have become forums for sharing the news, this does not mean Facebook has the journalistic integrity to present us with a diversity of news topics and stories. In fact, a report by Gizmodo published last week suggests Facebook’s algorithms and curators have skewed the way we receive the news, though Facebook denies the allegation.

When you log onto Facebook, the trending news section is culled by algorithms and curators from the company. Although algorithms can help tailor news topics and issues for each of us, curators have the tools to “inject” stories into this section, even if they’re not naturally trending online. The effect of this is that social media sites like Facebook can dictate what is and is not important news. The Gizmodo report features interviews with some of the social media site’s conservative-leaning curators who suggest trending conservative news stories and topics are sometimes discouraged from being selected as news stories for Facebook unless they were covered by other news outlets such as CNN or The New York Times.

This report indicates questionable ethics on Facebook’s part. Sites like Facebook have become positive feedback loops that seem to only cater to what like-minded people want to hear. This is incredibly dangerous because it starts to silo off topics conservative people care about. The process has the potential to render the news topics conservative-leaning individuals care about irrelevant, stopping conservatives from even becoming a part of the conversation in the first place.

Facebook’s political leanings could have huge implications on the way its users receive their news. With about 156.5 million U.S. Facebook users in January 2015, the social media mammoth is becoming central to our news consumption. If Facebook users only hear about topics and issues from sites that Facebook news curators approve of, and certain news outlets and stories are prevented from becoming a part of our national conversations, there is a real problem.

This recent news about Facebook has particular salience at Northwestern, where conservatives are a minority and some conservative students feel that it’s challenging to voice their thoughts on political issues. When these discussions are seemingly removed from Facebook — one of the last platforms left for these conversations — it may be difficult for students to find a forum which allows for these discussions. By removing many of these issues and topics from the conversation, Facebook becomes an unsettling echo chamber for liberal students with little room for conservative students to voice their thoughts and opinions.

The best response it to turn Facebook itself into an irrelevant news source by ignoring its news function altogether. In order for us to have a better representation of local, national and international issues from a variety of perspectives, we cannot continue to rely on Facebook as a news aggregator. Instead, we should focus on other sites and news agencies if we want to better inform individuals.

Caroline Vakil is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.