Truth/Objectivity in the age of Algorithms
Truth and Objectivity. Together, they counter balance the pressure to twist the truth, to bias the evidence, and to force an unwarranted interpretation. Objectivity provides the standards by which to estimate how close we are to the truth(Ward,2009). Truth and Objectivity are the two main branches on which journalism ethics is built. So let us ask ourselves this question. How can you identify whether the report you are consuming is objective? A report is objective if and only if it is a factual and accurate recording of an event. It reports only the facts, and eliminates comment, interpretation, and speculation, by the reporter. The report is neutral between rival views on an issue(Ward,2009). As for truth? Truth seeking is especially important to journalism, socially and politically. Truth motivates courageous journalism. The process of truth seeking gradually strips away error, inaccuracy or exaggeration from the initial descriptions of events(Ward,2009). Objectivity did face many challenges and criticism over the years from when it was first established. First, objectivity is too demanding and ideal for journalism hence objectivity is a “myth”. Second, objectivity, even if possible is undesirable because it forces writers to use restricted formats.It fails to provide readers with interpretation. Finally objectivity restricts free press. A democracy is achieved when there are diverse opinions competing in the market (Ward,2009). Today, objectivity is faced with a new challenge, algorithmic media. This brings us to the main question, is the principle of objectivity in the news threatened by algorithmic media?
In today’s world, mankind relies on social media platforms and new technology in order to stay up to date with news and changes happening in the world. We are all “connected” to the world. As for the case of journalism, it has become clear that with the evolution of the digital age, we have indirectly become journalists ourselves. Just think about how easy it is for anyone to post news worthy content on their page, regardless of whether the information is truthful or fake, and without any editorial supervision since this is their own personal opinion (objectivity is violated). This post can go viral, being read and seen by millions worldwide.That is one main principle of facebook which is connecting people all around the world and introducing them to diverse communities. Have we ever thought about whether everyone in the world who uses social media has a clear education of media law and ethics? Free speech still exists but to what extent and what are its consequences on social media? The more we use twitter, facebook, and instagram, the more we are feeding the algorithms they use what is in our interest. Algorithms are encoded procedures for transforming input data into a desired output, based on specified calculations(Gillespie, 2014). When algorithms were introduced, what was the fate of legacy media? Editorial decisions were no longer made by humans but by computer algorithms. A machine now chooses for you what you view, share, like, and perceive. Relevance and truth values are being calculated by computer code. To what extent will a computer value truth? Editorial judgement is based on observed behavior hence the pages one visits, the videos and posts one shares and the topics that interests him/her. We are never presented by just one view on a certain case or topic but multiple opinions at the same time. The responsibility is then left to us on how we perceive the information but as I had asked earlier, are we all media law and ethics experts? Objectivity is already violated by algorithms. According to Gillespie, the technical character of the algorithm is positioned as an assurance of impartiality. Yet it is limited by our own prejudices and pretensions because what we search for and read feeds directly into what algorithms play back to us(2014). Gillespie believes that the promise of algorithm leans much less on institutional norms and trained expertise, and more on a technologically inflected promise of mechanical neutrality(2014).The final decision made is far from human hands but in the control of a working computer. For example, Facebook’s top priorities for the news feed is “engagement.” The company tries to choose posts that people are likely to read, like, and share with their friends. Which, they hope, will induce people to return to the site over and over again. They will manipulate people with the most attention-grabbing headlines without worrying about whether articles are fair, accurate, or important(Lee,2016). Another word to this would be click bate. Truth is not taken into consideration. We are trusting information platforms which we no longer fully understand.
In the end, algorithms are simply pieces of code. Code that is initially created by human hands. The social media platforms control their algorithm. They decide what to feed it and how it should function. This means that it can be changed. Hence they cannot be considered as “manipulative” since they are only doing what is asked of them. It is the responsibility of the social media platforms such as facebook, to shape their algorithms in a way that would keep objectivity and truth as a main priority. They can base their algorithms on sources that offer truthful and credible information rather than what one shares on his/her newsfeed. Why can’t they try to limit fake news instead of letting their algorithms boost it? How will their audience regain trust in the content? The problem is the way the algorithm was written so change the algorithm.All it needs a decision to change for the fate of truth and objectivity. So I conclude in answering the question I first asked. The principle of objectivity is being threatened by algorithmic media.
Ward (2009) ‘Truth and Objectivity’ in Wilkins & Christians (eds.) Handbook of Mass Media Ethics, Routledge, London; New York
GILLESPIE, T. (2014). Facebook’s algorithm — why our assumptions are wrong, and our concerns are right.
Lee, T. B. (2016, November 11). Mark Zuckerberg is in denial about how Facebook is harming our politics. https://www.vox.com/new-money/2016/11/6/13509854/facebook-politics-news-bad