Some thoughts on the role of social media ethics and fact checking during the US election

Much has been said about the media’s failure during the US election. It’s role, surely, should be to educate and inform voters, call out untruths (or lies as they used to be known), and be held in high enough esteem to be respected as a news source.

(One of Trump’s most blatant and petty lies:

But now, with social media being the primary way tens of millions of people consume their news, I think it is time to start laying some of the blame on the platforms themselves like Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook’s algorithms decide what content people end up seeing on their timelines. It’s based on their own and their friend’s previous "likes" and engagements.

It creates an echochamber where people are only exposed to information that confirms their preheld prejudices and opinions. It doesn’t challenge them and it doesn’t call out lies. Even the most partisan media platforms and newspapers (mostly) do this and have an ethical responsibility to do so.

Obviously the causal factor in the election, just as with Brexit in the UK, was people’s antipathy towards the status quo. But many voters get swept up in popular tides of feeling, when if they were actually exposed to the facts, they might reassess the situation.

I think it is time for Facebook, for Twitter, and others, to realise they have an ethical and democratic duty to create balance in the information people consume.

In practise, I don’t know how this could work. Whether that is by suggesting dissenting views in a "suggested posts" section, or by adjusting their algorithm when it comes to posts from news sites, to offer a wider selection of views. Whatever the case, something should be done.

The role of Facebook in delivering news is a huge disruption and challenge to the mainstream media. It has changed the industry beyond recognition in the past five years. Now social media must realise they too have responsibilities as publishing platforms, just as print and broadcasters have before.