News Corp. founder and arch-globalist Rupert Murdoch recently proposed an idea to tame the tech giants: an “algorithm review board”, to guard against “algorithmic abuse” on the part of Facebook, Google, and other Silicon Valley masters of the universe.
Algorithms are the mathematical models used by online platforms to determine what users see on their newsfeeds, and in what order. Changes to algorithms can have dramatic ramifications for news outlets and public figures: an algorithm change by Facebook in January boosted the mainstream media at the expense of conservative media, and cut engagement (likes, shares, comments, etc) on President Trump’s Facebook posts by 45 percent.
To those who think the masters of the universe in Silicon Valley need more oversight to ensure their platforms are a level playing field, Murdoch’s idea, on the face of it, sounds good. In theory, an algorithm review board could monitor the tech giants and identify when an algorithm change is causing some media outlets to be favored at the expense of others.
However, that’s probably not what Murdoch has in mind.
The media mogul, whose company operates multiple established news outlets around the world, including Fox News, the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Times of London, and the Sun, doesn’t want an equal playing field. Earlier this year, Murdoch accused social media platforms of promoting “scurrilous news sources”, and urged Facebook to pay “trusted” news sources a carriage fee, similar to cable companies.
Far from ensuring an equal playing field, this would create a two-tiered system on social media, in which Facebook executives — not ordinary users — get to decide what news is “trusted,” and thus gets a prominent position on the site. Murdoch’s vision for social media is a return to the dominance of establishment media — and Mark Zuckerberg appears to be listening to him.
Zuckerberg’s recent changes to Facebook were designed to promote what he calls “broadly trusted” news sources. Although less obvious than Murdoch’s carriage fees, the methodology Facebook uses to determine a “broadly trusted” news source is designed to favor established outlets like CNN and the New York Times while downranking conservative media. And that’s exactly what happened after the algorithm changes were implemented.
Facebook has avoided the question of why users aren’t allowed to determine what news they trust, by “liking” and “following” pages. That would expose the lie behind Facebook’s algorithm: they aren’t doing this because of pressure from users; they’re doing it because of pressure from the establishment.
In the early days of the internet, small, one-man blogs were able to compete with multinational media empires like News Corp. Information no longer needed to be filtered through a well-paid presenter in a million-dollar TV studio before it reached the public. The establishment is determined to bring those days to an end, and restore the power of elite gatekeepers. If an “algorithm review board” is set up with the specific purpose of preserving the level playing field that existed in the early days of the internet, that’s great — but it’s not what Rupert Murdoch wants.