After a break for reading week and then a snow week which put paid to my colleague Caroline Pringle’s lecture on online communities, Journalism Technologies resumed at the University of Huddersfield last week with my lecture examining the related fields of UGC verification, citizen witnessing and the context of what is often described as fake news.
In some ways, the debate around all of this remains in a similar position to when I addressed this topic a year ago. Then, with Donald Trump newly in the White House and Facebook scrambling to work out what to do amid mounting criticism of its perceived role in the spread of various nonsense before polling day, it seemed as though some significant changes might happen, in particular to the look and feel of Facebook’s news feed (with checkmarks for ‘approved’ sources, or warnings of potential fakery, perhaps). As it is, the main change to Facebook’s algorithm since then has seen a general downgrading of news of all kinds. Good news if you’re a fan of other people’s baby photos, but a notable risk to publishers large and small in terms of traffic, and therefore money.
But it still seems to be Facebook under pressure, rather than publishers. This is probably no surprise considering its enormous scale. But not for nothing was 2017 arguably the toughest year in its history. It will go to great lengths to avoid the cold hand of regulation from the US, EU, or anyone else, knowing well that it was long-running anti-trust legal issues that did as much as anything else to nobble tech’s last undisputed giant, Microsoft, in the late 1990s. Facebook also still wants to break into China, and having all kinds of news content swilling about will do nothing for its prospects there. Squaring all of these complicated, overlapping circles still looks out of easy reach.