News Media Alliance President and CEO David Chavern today called on the major technology platforms, namely Facebook and Google, to take responsibility for the role they play in deciding, via their “secret algorithms,” how and to whom news is distributed, and the subsequent impact of those decisions on civil society.
Chavern, who leads the association of more than 2,000 print and digital news publishers, made his remarks while testifying at a House Judiciary Committee hearing that addressed, “Social Media Filtering Practices and their Effect on Free Speech.”
“We have never been more interconnected or had easier and quicker means of communication. However, as currently structured, the digital ecosystem gives tremendous viewpoint control and economic power to a very small number of companies – the tech platforms that distribute online content. That control and power must come with new responsibilities,” stated Chavern.
In a preliminary statement, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said, “The advent of social media has made it possible for people to connect across continents, explore vast amounts of information, and share meaningful dialogue with friends and strangers. However, this same technology can be used to suppress a particular viewpoint and manipulate public opinion.”
The editorial judgments the platforms make about the content it distributes, combined with the fact that they collect revenue to promote paid content over other, better-quality content, demonstrate that the platforms are not “neutral pipes.” Yet, Chavern said, the platforms don’t assume responsibility in the same way as an established newspaper publisher. “My members put their names on their product and stand behind it. Readers know where to send complaints. The same cannot be said of the sea of bad information that is delivered by the platforms in paid priority over my members’ quality information.”
Chavern called for lawmakers to acknowledge the “immense filtering and decision-making power” of the tech platforms, suggesting they require the platforms to implement standards for their algorithms. “Neither company is ‘neutral,’ and it’s wrong to pretend they are. From that flows a clear need for both companies to have: (i) enforceable, transparent standards on their algorithmic decision-making, particularly as to fairness and openness; and (ii) systems and policies that reward original, quality information and content provided by trusted news organizations employing professional journalists.”
Chavern concluded, “The bottom line is that while Facebook and Google claim that they do not want to be ‘arbiters of truth,’ they are continually making huge decisions on how and to whom news content is delivered. The major technology platforms are wonderful and original creations, but they need to be much better stewards of the information they distribute to the public than they are today if we hope to sustain a vibrant civil society into the future.”
Chavern’s full testimony can be found here.