InfluenceChronicles.com -- When Facebook deleted the iconic “Napalm girl” photograph because it violated policy on showing nude children, the Norwegian newspaper editor who posted it wagged a sanctimonious finger at CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
"The media have a responsibility to consider publication [of stories] in every single case," wrote Espen Egil Hansen, editor at Norway’s largest newspaper, in an open letter to Mr. Zuckerberg. "This right and duty, which all editors in the world have, should not be undermined by algorithms encoded in your office in California."
Facebook allowed the photo after members around the world protested -- underscoring the power of social media communities to police themselves. The outcome was as it should be.
But in reporting the reversal, most news media -- some treating the controversy like it was another Scopes trial -- failed to clarify that the commercial Norwegian newspaper was using Facebook first and foremost as a free marketing and publicity tool. “You are offering us a great channel for distributing our content,” Hansen wrote. “Even though I am editor-in-chief of Norway’s largest newspaper… you are restricting my room for exercising my editorial responsibility.”
It's doubtful that Mr. Hansen read through Facebook's investor prospectus to find where it says the company is beholden to his “exercising of editorial responsibility.” Because it's not there.
Here's the thing about the internet. Over time, the relationship between social and news media will either achieve mutually-beneficial equilibrium or reshape itself completely -- just like what happened with personal home pages and other content aggregation platforms. Mr. Zuckerberg sees this as making Facebook the "perfect personalized newspaper for everyone in the world."
However things play out, we should be cautious about holding Facebook and other corporate-owned social media services accountable for not behaving like the news journalism companies they aren’t.
Delivering the milk doesn’t make you a cow.
InfluenceChronicles.Com -- National Public Radio has joined the growing number of online media outlets that no longer show public comments at the bottom of news stories.
In case you’re new to this WWW thing: Many comment sections have been commandeered by small groups of mostly anonymous "trolls" who shout down and ridicule anyone with opposing opinions, often with incredibly violent imagery and hate speech. And don't get us started about punctuation.
Many news sites held on – and still do -- to comment sections in part because they create space to sell ads, without the nuisance of paying journalists for content. These days, however, social media platforms offer more civil, cost-efficient ways to facilitate public dialogue around sponsors’ interests. The result is that media sites are dropping comment sections as a well-intentioned but failed, high-maintenance vestige of a simpler Internet time.
But not all. One ticked-off supporter of comment sections is Breitbart News, the hyper-populist, anti-lefty media site whose chairman is now running Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Hostile partisan vitriol is what outlets like Breitbart and the anti-righty Daily Kos are selling, and they have plenty of followers (including trolls). But these aren’t products that attract mainstream advertisers and promotions. It’s commerce, not comments, that keep most online media in business.
Time Magazine underscores the problem with its cover story, “How Trolls are ruining the Internet.” Some 80% of the 93-year-old magazine's own writers said they don't cover certain topics because they fear the online response. Sometimes the attackers will track down and harass a writer's spouse, parents, even children.
Despite America’s chaotically contradictory Internet culture, it would seem that the bulk of news comment sections are heading toward extinction as new ways to engage the virtual public square become more advanced. What the Internet mob does as a result is a whole other consideration.