A lot seems to be shifting under our feet in the way writing comes to us in 2023. Recently The Wall Street Journal uncovered a hitherto unknown effort by Facebook to suppress political content in the wake of the events of January 6, 2021, a measure that resulted in diminishing “high-quality news” relative to “material from outlets users considered less trustworthy” in users' feeds. The purpose, internal documents from Facebook parent company Meta disclosed, was to “reduce incentives to produce civic content” after years of criticism that their algorithm's elevation of inflammatory items sows unrest and does harm. In Meta's reasoning, suppressing all news relieved them of having to adjudicate it in ways that might appear “political.” Users didn't like it, Facebook found: “The majority of users want the same amount or more civic content than they see in their feeds today. The primary bad experience was corrosiveness/divisiveness and misinformation in civic content.” Meta held back from the most draconian application of the principle, “hitting the mute button on all recommendations of political content,” in favor of “demot[ing] posts on ‘sensitive' topics as much as possible.” In the realm of unintended consequences, the change apparently reduced donations to charities and prompted some publishers to switch to “more sensationalistic crime coverage” in search of engagement. The development casts in a new light Meta's announcement last summer of the expiration of Facebook's once-heralded […]
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