Read Smarter Roundup #1: Platforms and Breaking News
As news consumers, we can say this: It does not have to be like this.
— Alexis Madrigal
What responsibilities do platforms have during breaking news events? The Sunday night Las Vegas massacre raised some very troubling issues — both during the event, and in the responses of the companies.
We, as readers, get it. The moments right after a major news event are full of uncertainty and misinformation. But the idea that the sites we turn to for information have no responsibility for the information they deliver us is maddening.
Take a moment and think about your routine during these horrific situations, right after you get that notification that makes you say “not again”.
Do you go to Facebook to see what people are posting? Facebook found itself in trouble again, as it’s Trending Topics page was shown to be linking to two Russian propaganda outlets.
Facebook has worked to become a vital tool in manmade and natural disasters with its Safety Check feature. For some reason they algorithmically select articles to show up to provide additional information. The algorithm featured stories from sites like alt-right-news-blogspot.com and “End Times Headlines”.
The response was particularly disturbing as they acknowledge the errors but seemed to indicate that because they fixed it in “a few minutes”, they can’t help it that some people are “screen captured and circulated online”, once again shirking responsibility to people and not their platform:
“Our Global Security Operations Center spotted the post this morning and removed it. However, its removal was delayed by a few minutes, allowing it to be screen captured and circulated online. We are working to fix the issue that allowed this to happen in the first place and deeply regret the confusion this caused.”
Do you go to Google and type in search terms related to the topic? In this case Google’s “Top Stories” gave placement to 4chan threads on Geary Danley. Public conversations on 4chan showed users openly plotting on how to spread a fake story
Admittedly, searching for Geary Danley on Monday morning probably meant you were already running in conspiracy circles, but more troubling was Google’s tepid response:
Unfortunately, early this morning we were briefly surfacing an inaccurate 4chan website in our Search results for a small number of queries. Within hours, the 4chan story was algorithmically replaced by relevant results. This should not have appeared for any queries, and we’ll continue to make algorithmic improvements to prevent this from happening in the future.
Maybe you do something that I wasn’t particularly familiar with, but apparently is all the rage amongst millenials — you search Youtube for breaking news terms:
Now, this is not a common practice of mine, but I decided to search Steven Paddock at about 715am on Monday morning and this was my top result. All I can say is wow (or more accurately, huh?).
This is the fundamental problem: Platforms openly acknowledge they are not responsible. They are directly telling us this, and their honesty is almost refreshing: We know we messed up, but c’mon, we fixed it fairly quickly, and we really can’t handle every little thing. We’re huge!
Until platforms acknowledge responsibility for their content during a breaking news event, remind yourself that, in the end, the responsibility lies with you, the reader. Your news routine matters.
The five best articles we’ve encountered on the Platforms and the Las Vegas Shooting:
- The always excellent Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic:
The world’s most powerful information gatekeepers neglected their duties in Las Vegas. Again.medium.com
2. Kevin Roose at the NY Times:
A Facebook spokesman said, "We are working to fix the issue that allowed this to happen in the first place and deeply…www.nytimes.com
3. Margaret Sullivan at the Washington Post:
Well-intentioned warnings to journalists were circulating early this week as the news of the Las Vegas massacre broke…www.washingtonpost.com
4. Cale Guthrie Weissman at Fast Company:
In the wake of the deadly shooting in Las Vegas last night that left more than 50 dead and hundreds injured, people…www.fastcompany.com
5. Charlie Warzel at Buzzfeed: