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This is Facebook news at 6 o’clock

02.06.16

The days of only using Facebook to connect with friends and family, stalk love interests or organise social events are long gone.

As the social media platform seeks to fight for relevance and retain our ever-shorter attention spans, breaking news became the latest catnip feature when it launched in January 2014.

Love story

For a brief moment, we wondered whether we would need a news app on our smart phones anymore, surely Facebook now did it all?

But, as with all honeymoon periods, the butterflies in our bellies faded fast when news broke that the social media channel had allegedly been editing Trending Topics, intentionally supressing stories supporting conservative viewpoints.

All this at a time when Republican candidate Donald Trump was coming closer to winning the presidential nomination and becoming possibly the most outspoken and conservative Republican president of modern times.

The accusations of political bias from former employees led to US Senator John Thune sending a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, asking for clarification on the workings of Trending.

That an elected official felt that the allegations being made were significant enough to warrant investigation by a US Senate Committee tells us a lot about how much attention political leaders are paying to the way we digest news and the perceived damage that biased editing of topics poses to parties when voters are heading to the polls.

Let’s work things out

So what did Facebook do? Well, it launched an internal investigation that analysed 3,000 news curator decisions, interviewed its current and former employees and in a 12-page letter to Senator Thune – outlined the changes it would be making to its guidelines to ‘exclude the possibility of improper actions’.

It’s all about trust

Being the world’s largest publishing platform brings with it a huge responsibility, even more so given that all of the content is user-generated. For this reason, as the job title would suggest, it’s Facebook’s job to curate the news published, not edit it.

Had the internal investigation found any evidence of the latter, it may have caused political parties to withdraw from the platform that for many users may be their only source of news – surely a negative outcome for all concerned if knowledge is power.

So don’t be surprised to see Boris and Dave paying close attention to social media in the coming weeks. In or out, Facebook may be the last place you consume information to inform your decision on 23 June.

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