The Effect of Facebook’s Social Media Silo on Itself and You

You reinforce the walls of your personal information bubble. At least, that’s what SUNY Buffalo communication professor Ivan Dyelko and his research team found. In “The dark side of technology: An experimental investigation of the influence of customizability technology on online political selective exposure,” Dyelko and his coauthors report that people are much more likely to click and spend time on articles that reflect their pre-existing biases. In the tests they did, the only group that was likely to spend significant time reading articles that challenged their beliefs was the one in which the news feed was randomized, not weighted by user preference or an algorithm based on prior user behavior. Ask yourself: Do any of your social media services or search engines work on randomization? Or do they all show you what they think you want to see?

So what? Unlike a certain search engine that weights results instead of providing organic returns to user inquiry, social media companies are now shrugging sheepishly and saying, “Yeah, we totally contributed to the siloing of social discourse. Um. Sorry?” (It helps that there’s a study that points out their role in the media failures of 2016.)

.. Who cares? Social media investors should. Facebook is considered a great long-term stock buy right now because it’s virtually monopolizing a market—MySpace is an also-ran, Google+ is a niche product, and LinkedIn was bought so it could become a data collection mechanism for Microsoft’s suite of machine learning-enhanced workplace tools. But Facebook’s monopoly depends on it maintaining its user base of 1.9 billion active users, all of whom generate monetizable content for Facebook. If those users perceive a reason to flee Facebook—if they feel it’s biased, untrustworthy, routinely violating their safety or creating social friction—then the data sets Facebook sells to advertisers and publishers become less valuable, meaning the company eventually loses value.

We’ve already seen this happen with Twitter. Google, Disney and Salesforce all backed away from buying the microblogging company in 2016 for two reasons: Twitter hasn’t been able to successfully monetize its users (unlike Facebook), and Twitter has a growing reputation among current and former users as being unconcerned with the quality of user experience. That experience doesn’t just include the bullying endemic to Twitter; it also includes the content of the tweets themselves. On Twitter, nobody knows if you’re a robot someone paid to promote a specific ideology.

.. And you, dear reader, should care about your filter bubble potential, too. As a recent New York Times op-ed on the virtues of hate-reading reasoned, “Reading what you hate helps you refine what it is you value, whether it’s a style, a story line or an argument… Defensiveness makes you a better reader, a closer, more skeptical reader: a critic. Arguing with the author in your head forces you to gather opposing evidence. You may find yourself turning to other texts with determination, stowing away facts, fighting against the book at hand. You may find yourself developing a point of view.”

If you are the type of person who has actually woken up out of a fitful sleep saying, “And you’re wrong!”—and I’m going to guess, based on the self-selecting nature of people who read So What, Who Cares, every one of you has lost sleep at least once because someone was wrong on the Internet—then you are going to want to be right when you argue on the Internet or in your daily life. Being right requires identifying our own bubble, admitting why you’ve chosen to live in it, and then looking for the points of view that poke at it to see what breaks and what holds true.

Donald Trump broke the conservative media

“If in 96 days Trump loses this election, I am pointing the finger directly at people like [House Speaker] Paul Ryan and [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and John McCain and John Kasich and Ted Cruz — if he won’t endorse — and Jeb Bush and everybody else that made promises they’re not keeping,” Hannity exclaimed, later threatening to endorse Ryan’s far-right primary challenger.

.. In fact, throughout the election season, it has appeared that Republicans have fielded more attacks from their supposed friends on the right than their political opponents on the left.

.. “The analogy that I think of is somebody who has a baby alligator in their bathtub and they keep feeding it and taking care of it,” said Charlie Sykes, a popular conservative talk show host in Wisconsin. “And it’s really cute when it’s a baby alligator — until it becomes a grown-up alligator and comes out and starts biting you.”

.. three key forces: Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Matt Drudge.

.. Simultaneously, the conservative news media sought to lock in its audience by characterizing the mainstream press as an industry comprising dishonest liberals — something with which the GOP was more than happy to go along.

.. “What it became, essentially, was they were preaching this is the only place you can get news. This is the only place you can trust. All other media outlets are lying to you. So you need to come to us,”

.. To avoid being called a RINO (Republican in name only), a Republican would have to take a hardline conservative position on nearly every issue. If, say, they were to hold conservative positions on 90% of the issues, the conservative press would focus on the 10% where there was disagreement.

.. only one candidate could be conservative enough to support for president: Cruz.

.. But something went awry. The most aggressive right-wing members of the conservative press — the members who constantly lambasted certain Republicans for not toeing the hard-right line on every issue — got behind perhaps the most unlikely candidate of all: Donald Trump.

.. “We have reached the bizarro-world point where, for all intents and purposes, conservatives are RINOs,” said John Ziegler, a nationally syndicated conservative talk show host who called Andrew Breitbart a friend. “There is no place now for real conservatives. We’ve also reached the point, I say, we’ve left the gravitational pull of the rational Earth, where we are now in a situation where facts don’t matter, truth doesn’t matter, logic doesn’t matter.”

.. “You look at someone who a few cycles might have been derided as a right-wing lunatic, now they aren’t conservative enough,”

.. he believed some conservative pundits were “just drawn to Trump’s style more than policies.”

.. “I think that some of them just like Trump and were willing to cut him some slack on his shifting of positions because he’s a fighter and they like that,”

.. Ratings may have also played a role, according to conservative talkers who refused to jump aboard the Trump train.

.. Hannity in particular has faced criticism from some colleagues in the conservative-media sphere who allege he has been too cozy with Trump. Ziegler, the conservative radio host, said there’s “there’s no question” a “monetary element” drove coverage overall.

.. “Hannity is desperate for every ratings crumb on the Fox News Channel. … It’s all about ratings,” he said. “Hannity is not particularly talented, he’s not a smart guy — he used to just be a Republican talking points talk show host who happened to be in the right place at the right time. So he’s very vulnerable at any time.

.. while there are other outlets that belong to the conservative media apparatus, they lack the influence of the hard right. The National Review or Weekly Standard might earn the eyeballs of elites in Washington, but those in the heartland seem to prefer the style of the more aggressive pro-Trump outlets.

.. That has left conservatives who oppose Trump in a tricky position when trying to get their message to supporters. No longer can Ryan or Cruz turn to Hannity for a softball interview. They can’t work with Breitbart or rely on Drudge to help with their legislative agenda.

These Republicans have effectively been exiled from the conservative news media

.. “We have taught conservatives for many years to trust nothing other than what they hear in conservative media. Yet the conservative media has now proven to be untrustworthy.”

 

The BuzzFeed Layoffs as Democratic Emergency

Digital media has always been a turbulent business, but last week’s layoffs suggest a reason for panic.

The cause of each company’s troubles may be distinct, but collectively the blood bath points to the same underlying market pathology: the inability of the digital advertising business to make much meaningful room for anyone but monopolistic tech giants.

.. In the troubles at Verizon, we see a behemoth that tried to take on Google and Facebook. Under a former executive, Tim Armstrong, the phone company bought up Yahoo and other media brands as useful pawns in a strategic war against internet giants. For similar reasons, Comcast has also plowed money into media start-ups.

But Verizon quickly learned that Facebook and Google are insurmountable. When new management took over last year, it began dumping the news in favor of readier ways to make money.

.. It’s the cuts at BuzzFeed that sting most. You may regard the site as a purveyor of silly listicles and inane quizzes. I think of it as a relentlessly experimental innovator: It’s the site that gave us The Dress and published The Dossier, a company that pushed the rest of the industry to regard the digital world with seriousness and rigor.

More than anyone else in media, BuzzFeed’s founder, Jonah Peretti, bet on symbioses with the tech platforms. He understood that the tech giants would keep getting bigger, but to him that was a feature, not a bug. By creating content that hooked into their algorithms, he imagined BuzzFeed getting bigger — and making money — along with them.

At the least, the layoffs suggest the tragic folly of Mr. Peretti’s thinking. Google and Facebook have no economic incentive for symbiosis; everything BuzzFeed can do for them can also be done by the online hordes who’ll make content without pay.

So where does that leave media? Bereft.

It is the rare publication that can survive on subscriptions, and the rarer one that will be saved by billionaires. Digital media needs a way to profitably serve the masses. If even BuzzFeed couldn’t hack that, we are well and truly hosed.