Technology

Newspaper Publishers' Group: Facebook Should Be Regulated

By / Jul 6, 2016 (iStock/Thinkstock)

In response to a recent algorithm change by the social giant, the National Newspaper Publishers Association called on regulators to ensure that journalistic voices are protected. Some critics, meanwhile, suggested that the NNPA consider pressuring the company’s advertisers as an alternative strategy.

Facebook’s recent decision to dramatically change the algorithms that drive the posts you see—a hot topic for people in the marketing and media spheres—has at least one association crying foul.

The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), which represents more than 200 black-owned newspapers around the country, has seen its members struggle with the constant shifts in the industry. And with Facebook being a publicly traded company worth tens of billions of dollars, the association is calling for some accountability.

NNPA’s top leadership—Chairperson Denise Rolark-Barnes and President and CEO Benjamin F. Chavis—say that Facebook’s power, wielded without transparency or appreciation for the impact the company’s decisions have on the press, requires regulators to take a closer look.

“Like many other publishers who have recently written on Facebook’s growing power over the media and what Americans read, we too are alarmed with one company having such dominance in news aggregation,” Rolark-Barnes and Chavis wrote in a commentary last week. “Online hubs like Facebook are able to engineer which stories catch on. And they’re able to decide by algorithmic fiat, which bylines, viewpoints and subject matter is promoted to the masses.”

The duo calls this sort of authority “unlike any power a media company has ever had before,” and adds that Facebook, in its role as a gatekeeper, “raises profound questions about the nature of news in this country in the years to come.”

NNPA’s commentary led to a variety of responses from fellow black journalists and media figures, such as Clint C. Wilson II, professor emeritus at Howard University’s School of Communications. Wilson admitted that there was a problem that clearly affected traditionally black media outlets, but he suggested that the association may struggle to sell its regulatory approach.

“A more likely successful legal tactic would be to persuade Facebook’s advertisers and clients that a major social flaw exists in the exclusion of certain minority viewpoints and exert economic pressure to bring about the desired change in content,” Wilson told The Root.

Nevertheless, the issue of what Facebook favors is being closely watched in the media space. Last week, Quartz writer Jillian York noted that a number of groups of people have felt shortchanged by the company’s influence—including plus-size women, journalists, cannabis advocates, and artists.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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