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Month July 2014

You gotta read this! / Thoughts about reading and internet media use

Back in May Mike Hudack posted a rant about the state of the news media. The gist of it is: here we are in 2014, the Internet is at scale — the mobile internet is in the pockets 30%+ of adults worldwide and social networks are at a proportionate scale and yet the news media seems to be becoming more and more dumb. Put another way: the world of news creation and access have been blown open and yet most news organizations have hollowed out their news capabilities and are posting the trivial listicles about “28 young couples you should know”. The response was interesting — one reason is Mike works at Facebook. Alexis Madrigal summed up much of the sentitment in a sentence in the comments: “Hey, Mike, … My perception is that Facebook is *the* major factor in almost every trend you identified.”

A month later — here in New York our extended spring was rolling onward and on Sunday, June 8th, the University of Redding in the UK put out a press release saying that the Turing test had been passed for the first time, ever. The media ran with the story — or more accurately reproducing the press release. The headlines were excellent, easily shareable, easily clickable. I for one saw it fly by my steam and thought “wow, milestone passed”, I will share that. The problem was the press release wasn’t true, and neither were most of the stories that were published. Fast forward to a month later — right at the end of June the the AP announced that they are going to start algorithmically writing stories. Using earnings reports data they are going to let machines “write” business stories.

Lets take a step back and think a bit about what is going on here. We have a dominant social distribution system that favors sharablility — case in point: the Hudack discussion. Its biased towards speed, and that bias is short circuiting fact checking — as the Turing example shows. And in the case of Facebook its mediated by algorithms that arent transparent. Layer in the economics, the cost, of the creation of this “news” add in the AP announcement and you get a good idea of where this is headed. Algorithmically created news stories, mediated by algorithms, shared by people, people who are barely reading these posts. If we can all just get services like Socialflow to do our sharing — we humans can completely quit this loop.

Maybe this isn’t the whole story?   Read on …