Facebook’s trending news topics are a hot topic of conversation, but I can’t help but think we are blaming the messenger, not the message. Saying Facebook is ruining journalism is kind of like saying Microsoft and spell check have ruined my grammar. Sure I could slow down and check the words I mistype, or even open up an online dictionary, but I don’t. I look for those red underlines and let technology fix my flaws. Likewise, Facebook is merely a delivery technology that we can choose to pay attention to, or we choose to actively seek out multiple news outlets, look for facts about what is happening around the world, and read various opinions from experts, pundits, and journalists. But, for the most part, most of us don’t.
What would happen if we did? In my current research I am doing it every day. Yesterday morning on FoxNews I was overwhelmed with political infighting, on CNN I heard all about Bill Cosby’s trial, and on NPR I learned about President Obama’s trip to Vietnam. On the BBC and the New York Times, I read about the Islamic State and the Turkey’s hidden war with Kurdish rebels. And if I just followed Facebook’s trends? I would be well informed about Jupiter’s moons and an elephant giving birth at the Dallas zoo. (Over the past few days, since Mark Zuckerberg met with right-leaning leaders, the amount of political news in the “Top Trending” corner seems to be on a downward trend of its own).
Frank Bruni, Ross Douthat, and many other reporters are highlighting the impact of Facebook on news. While the medium of news is a necessary conversation perhaps we also need to talk about the message itself, and how we can take ownership for being informed, rather than trusting the latest technology. Democracy only works when citizens participate and are informed about issues the impact society, not just themselves.
Christina Tangora Schlachter, PhD is the Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Communication Institute and studies the impact of 24×7 information in our world.