The CEO of the New York Times slammed Silicon Valley giants yesterday, at an event hosted by the left-leaning Open Markets Institute to discuss the effects of big tech on news and publishing. Warning that Facebook is setting itself up as the “world’s editor in chief,” he also revealed that Mark Zuckerberg had told the Times that they could expect to do “very well” in their rankings of “trusted” news sources.
Despite Facebook’s recent attempts to curry favor with the establishment media, which include biasing their newsfeed algorithm towards establishment sources like CNN and away from independent and alternative media, as well as directly paying establishment outlets for exclusive news content, the corporate media warned that the tech giant was giving itself too much power and responsibility.
“We face an immediate threat” warned New York Times CEO Mark Thompson, “which is that Facebook’s catalogue of missteps with data and extreme and hateful content will lead to a naive attempt to set itself up as the world’s digital editor-in-chief, prioritizing and presumably downranking and rejecting content on a survey and data-driven assessment of whether the provider of the content is ‘broadly trusted’ or not.”
Thompson revealed that Mark Zuckerberg told him that the New York Times could expect to “do very well in such a ranking.”
Nevertheless, Thompson said that the concept of “broadly trusted” sources was a “sinister one.”
“Democracy depends in part on unbounded competition between different journalistic perspectives, and the clash of different judgments and opinions. History suggests that mainstream media organizations frequently get it right, but that not infrequently, the outliers should be listened to.”
“The process of citizens making up their own mind which news sources to believe is messy, and can indeed lead to fake news being believed, but to rob citizens of that ability [and replace it] with a centralized ‘trust’ algorithm will not make democracy healthier but damage it further.”
Instead of “censoring fake news”, Thompson said social media companies should be “giving people enough information to figure out for themselves what to believe and what not to believe.”
Thomspon’s comments highlighted a trend that has also been identified by Breitbart Tech: that Facebook is installing itself as the arbiter of what news sources are “broadly trusted,” usurping power from users in the process. Increasingly, Facebook’s algorithms aren’t designed to promote what its users “like” or follow, but what company executives have decided their users should like.
Thomspon also attacked social media companies for the opacity of their algorithms. “We do not know … how the algorithms of the major platforms sort and prioritize our content, nor can we reliably predict or influence changes in those algorithms, nor in any sense hold the companies to account for those changes.”
“The underlying danger of the agency of editors and the public alike being usurped by centralized algorithms and algorithmic control is present with every digital platform where we do not fully understand how the processes of editorial selection and prioritization take place, which right now means all of them, thus the urgent need for transparency.”
Not everyone at the Open Market Institute’s event, dominated by left-leaning and establishment figures, was in favor of giving power back to users — Mark Zuckerberg’s mentor, for example, told Breitbart News reporter Amanda House that “leaving it to the audience” to decide what counts as fake news is a mistake, and that users believe “sensation over substance.”