Exploring Bias: Insights Into Facebook’s Selling of Data

Recently in class, we discussed the responsibility of news consumers when reading through articles from various outlets, as outlined in Kovach and Rosenstiel’s book Blur. The authors note that the responsibilities of news consumers can be condensed into six essential questions:

  1. What kind of content am I encountering?
  2. Is the information complete; and if not, what is missing?
  3. Who or what are the sources and why should I believe them?
  4. What evidence is presented, and how was it tested or vetted?
  5. What might be an alternative explanation or understanding?
  6. Am I learning what I need to?

By considering these basic questions, readers are able to better evaluate the content that they consume and are in turn more aware of biases and are better able to distinguish what is authentic facts within news and what is not. Through this post I will interact with a Washington Post article and evaluate it’s based on the criteria listed by Kovach and Rosenstiel. For instance, I noted that this article titled, “Facebook allegedly offered advertisers special access to users’ data and activities, according to documents released by British lawmakers”, provides insight into the content and lens that the journalist will assume while discussing this topic. Additionally, I have also noted this article to be a part of the “traditional media” or one that has “historically had a commitment to all five of the key journalistic standards” and is thus quite reputable as outlined by Alex Jones in his book Losing the News. This article portrays how Damian Collins, a chairman of a British parliamentary committee, has “led a wide-ranging investigation into (Zuckerberg and) Facebook and its dealings with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica”. The article continues by discussing how documents recently released in Britain challenge the long time claims from Facebook stating that they do not sell the data of Facebook users for profit or to advertisers. The data suspected to be sold is listed by journalists Craig Timberg, Elizabeth Dwoskin, and Tony Romm as users’ Facebook posts, photos, name, gender, educational and religious background, and home town. This is vital information to users and could promote an increase in the tracking of users and thus further the personalization of their online experience which could contribute to the formation of a users’ filter bubble, as noted by Praiser, that can often exist on social media sites and apps such as Facebook. The article concludes with more quotes and evidence from previous years that denounces Facebook’s innocence in the selling of users’ data.

Additionally, upon reviewing this article, I noted that the journalists writing the piece are cited following the conclusion of the article and their qualifications and backgrounds are listed which also helped in observing the authenticity and accuracy of this article. However, with regards to the backgrounds, one should also be aware and diligent when reading since these journalists could possibly be perceived as insiders with their own biases that could be unknowingly portrayed through the sources and quotes chosen and the language used to describe the event. In turn, though this is most likely not the case with this particular article, these biases could contribute to the overall formation of journalism of affirmation, or the concept that “a new political media builds loyalty less on accuracy, completeness, or verification than on affirming the beliefs of its audiences, and so tends to cherry-pick information that serves that purpose” as noted by Kovach and Rosenstiel.

From this article, a clear pattern is portrayed through the evidence, sources, quotes, and language used to convey Facebook’s guilt. Alternatively, the denials from Mark Zuckerberg are included in this article, however, have limited believability due to the surrounding evidence of communication such as emails where he acknowledges the selling of users’ data.

In conclusion, this Washington Post article, when analyzed utilizing the six basic questions outlined by Kovach and Rosenstiel, provides overwhelming evidence against the innocence of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg with regards to the selling of users’ data. Additionally, this article is primarily concerned with facts of guilt through the sources, quotes, and language used to describe this event. Furthermore, this use of particular sources, quotes, and language could be viewed as a use of journalism of affirmation. Moreover, when considering the question of what could be missing, this could include accounts from Facebook users and the effects of the suspected selling of their data had on their Facebook and overall internet usage, particularly with a focus on how an issue such as this could have impacted users’ beliefs and democracy as a whole since the selling of data was suspected to have begun.

Sources:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2018/12/05/facebook-allegedly-offered-advertisers-special-access-users-data-activities-according-documents-released-by-british-lawmakers/?utm_term=.a22d562df5ee

Jones, Alex S. Losing the News, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010).

Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel “Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload” (New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2010)

I have acted with honesty and integrity in producing this work and am unaware of anyone who has not.

Penny Peña

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Exploring Bias: Insights Into Facebook’s Selling of Data

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