The Impact of the Facebook News Feed on Information Distribution

Studenteropgave: Kandidatspeciale og HD afgangsprojekt

  • Mads Kofod Rasmussen
4. semester, Engelsk, Kandidat (Kandidatuddannelse)
The dominant social media platform of Facebook is involved in the distribution of immense amounts of information daily through its almost 2 billion users worldwide. The platform caters to a wide variety of functions that encompass both regular people and large organizations. The popularity of the platform has made it relevant for news organizations as a means of distributing and drawing attention to their productions. The exposure to content by a Facebook user mainly occurs in part of the platform called the News Feed. The users’ experience is affected by the visual setup and functionality of the platform, as well as the algorithmically sorting of content according to what the user has previously shown an interest in by interacting with it on the platform. This report analyzes the setup of Facebook’s News feed in terms of its visual and functional setup and the sorting of information. This is done to asses the consequences of these aspects for a citizen’s ability to stay informed about relevant public matters when using the platform as news source. Ultimately it will seek to answer the question of whether its dissemination of information is a threat to a well functioning democracy.
It is found that the news feed is an environment that is tightly loaded with large amounts of information and is defined by ephemerality and competition. Easily processable information is promoted by these features as it is more accessible to the user in this environment. Due to the conforming effect of visibly successful content, it is produced more often when it is experienced to be successful. The competitive nature of the news feed is also enhanced by the sorting of the EdgeRank algorithm which favors engaging content. It is therefore necessary for users to produce engaging content to keep showing up in other users news feed. This is particularly necessary to consider for organizations such as news outlets with an agenda of reaching people while it is less important for private users who also can gain engagement based on different, easier social parameters. Engaging posts are necessary in competing for one of the first spots in the News Feed, which are coveted since likelihood of a user engaging.
These features make the News Feed a problematic environment for the dissemination of news relevant to a democratic citizen. The competitive features of the News Feed lead to baiting strategies to gain site views and engagement, which can erode trust in an outlets ability to produce serious content. Also, the fact that EdgeRank favors content similar to that which has previously been engaged with, limits the exposure to ideologically opposing news items, which can lead to group polarization and a ultimately a more divided society. The competitive environment of the visual and functional setup of the News Feed is not conducive to hard news, which is not necessarily processable or attention grabbing within a few seconds, particularly in competition with content of less demanding, enjoyment oriented content. The conclusion is that the setup of the News Feed contributes in more negative ways than positive. The aspects are not strong enough to be defined as a direct threat to democracy. The features can also be used to further useful information about public matters as well, though that is not deemed the most easily achievable or expected outcome. But if the News Feed is used as the dominant, primary source for news items to stay relevantly informed on important public matters such as voting it is problematic. This situation is not the reality in an American context yet, TV is still the dominant factor for news. But the younger generations increasingly use Facebook as a news source making it a probable future outcome that it is the primary news source. Such a situation should be monitored going forward, and measures to combat this should already be considered. Such suggestions are also a part of this report.
Udgivelsesdatomaj 2017
Antal sider71
ID: 258711974