Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, among others are the part of reluctant news media. With the advent of live-streaming options like Facebook Live and Periscope, primarily they are already a huge influence in the news universe and have taken another stunning leap.
The latest incident when Diamond Reynolds logged on to Facebook after her boyfriend, Philando Castile, was shot by a police officer on Wednesday in Falcon Heights, Minn., her first words as she started recording were “Stay with me,” and millions did.
On the strength of that live video, Minnesota’s governor brought in the Justice Department to investigate what might otherwise have gone unquestioned as a justified police action.
Now we call that news. But Facebook doesn’t see itself that way, even though two-thirds of its 1.6 billion users get news from facebook and they all now can be citizen journalists with live-broadcast cameras in their pockets.
In a recent blog post, Facebook executive Adam Mosseri reiterated Facebook’s consistent position: “We are not in the business of picking which issues the world should read about. We are in the business of connecting people and ideas and matching people with the stories they find most meaningful.”
Still, crucial decisions are constantly thrust upon Facebook. And they aren’t too different from those that news editors have always made: Should the newspaper print a photo of an assassinated ambassador? Should a TV network air a terrorist beheading?
Some social-media equivalents: Twitter decided to suspend 125,000 accounts that were associated with recruiting terrorists. YouTube chose to take down, and then put back up, video of Syrian security forces torturing a teenage boy. Reynolds’s video was removed from Facebook for about an hour after it was posted and then restored.
“There’s clearly an editorial process in which Silicon Valley companies are deciding what to put back up,” often in response to protests from viewers, said Zeynep Tufekci of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. This sometimes happens after users have flagged an item as offensive, resulting in its being removed in the first place. She thinks that is what happened with Reynolds’s video. Facebook has called it a technical glitch.
But given their extraordinary influence, they do have an obligation to grapple, as transparently as possible, with extraordinary responsibility.