Why Facebook needs a public editor

Mark Zuckerberg should hire a public editor for Facebook to benefit journalism's relationship with the platform. (Photo: b_d_solis/Flickr)

Mark Zuckerberg should hire a public editor for Facebook to benefit journalism’s relationship with the platform. (Photo: b_d_solis/Flickr)

It’s been a wild week for Facebook. The social network came under criticism this week for allegedly suppressing content that advocates Conservative policies when it comes to the content that appears on its Trending Topics list.

It also prompted a letter to the social network from John Thune, the Republican senator from South Dakota, with the senator saying if the bias were true, it was a violation of the values of an open internet.

The questions surrounding the allegations come as Facebook’s relationship with journalism continues to evolve. Facebook, according to a report from NPR, says it will be reviewing its practices and will be responding to the senator.

The social network has become one of the most quintessential platforms for dissemination of news, and a platform that news organizations have used to inform and engage audiences. Users flock to social media for news and information when they are on the go as well as to engage in conversations, which have become a signature of journalism in the 21st century.

The letter comes as documents from Facebook released to The Guardian newspaper in Britain shows guidelines similar to that of a traditional news organization, where editors are relied upon to exercise journalistic values in addition to the algorithms that sort the content for each user.

Yet as the questions continue, and as Facebook and other social platforms continue to be at the intersection of journalism for audiences, it perhaps could be time for Facebook to consider hiring public editors. They would, as Jeff Jarvis suggested in a post yesterday on Medium, not edit content, but be an advocate for the public. The idea also got an endorsement from Kelly McBride at the Poynter Institute, and it gets my endorsement too.

The rule however should not apply to just Facebook. Twitter, Google, Snapchat and others should also look into hiring public editors. These editors would be in a unique position to give insight on the core components of the interaction between users and these platforms, including the algorithms that shape these results.

Most importantly, these editors would help us better understand journalism’s relationship with these platforms, and how they can work better. It would be imperative for these public editors to be in place, and the quicker they are in place, the better the relationship will be for not just those who develop and curate this content, but for those who social networks, journalists and news organizations ultimately serve — the audience.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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