May 23, 2016 Last Updated 8:26 am

NYT accuses Facebook of lack of transparency in Trending lists

The New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg today accused the world’s largest social network, Facebook, of a lack of transparency in the way it compiles its Trending lists, calling the company’s response to a Gizmodo story “slow and awkward.”

At issue is the fact that a small group of anonymous staffers determine what “trends”, possibly injecting their own political biases into the news lists that appear on member pages.

“Facebook’s opacity can leave big slippery-slope questions to linger,” Rutenberg wrote today. “For instance, if Facebook can tweak its algorithm to reduce click bait, then, “Can they put a campaign out of business?” asked John Cook, the executive editor of Gawker Media. (Gawker owns Gizmodo, the site that broke the Trending story.)”

The fact is that this situation, where anonymous staffers have such editorial power, exists at all the large tech companies. Who determines what appears on the first page of the Apple News app, for instance. Or what exactly is the formula or algorithm that determines whether a story from one website or another is featured in Google News?

But it is the height of hypocrisy for the media columnist to be talking about a lack of transparency at Facebook when the same situation has always existed at newspapers, or any traditional media outlet. Yes, some papers, including the Times, may have an ombudsman, but how does it happen that multiple stories appear on the home page of the paper’s website slamming Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump? No one who reads the NYT or Post thinks this is coincidence, though I am sure the paper would insist that this is the case.

But if any paper can be said to be at fault at the growing influence of these third party aggregators it is the NYT that has always been among the first to be willing to share their content – whether it is with Apple and its latest devices, or Facebook with its Instant Articles.

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