The ‘Second City Derby’ took place yesterday – between Aston Villa and Birmingham City. Having worked with the Birmingham Mail for almost a decade, I now understand why so many fans of the two sides get so frustrated with the national media’s attitude to the city’s football clubs.
You don’t need to spend a long time with fans of Blues, Villa, West Brom (not in Birmingham I know) and other Midlands teams to know that they are as passionate as any other set of fans, so the constant referencing by radio commentators and media pundits to the ‘passion on show’ from the fans always suggests more about how much Midlands football is ignored most of the time than anything else.
It made an appearance in the Facebook Trending box on my timeline today too – or rather, a reference to Gary Gardner, who scored for Villa, appeared.
A lot has been written about the Facebook Trending box in recent weeks, mostly around the idea that fake news can beat the bots deployed to decide what is trending news or not. It’s not such much an idea as proven fact now, as this article from the Guardian shows. And this article from Poynter shows how dangerous fake news is in that context.
Facebook obviously got on the wrong side of journalists by firing the team it had hired to establish Trending in the first place. In fairness to Facebook, its size and scale means it is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t – hire people and accusations of bias in the most-read news platform in the world emerge. Use robots and it’s quite clear fake news appears.
Facebook appears to have the worst of all worlds now. Bots choosing the news, letting in fakes, and as CNBC suggested, the claims of bias haven’t gone away.
The solution is simple: Trust the news sources you know to be bone-fide news sources more. I argued this last month that Facebook should trust news sources with the ability to ‘over-ride’ the algorithm on occasions when it has stories it can prove the public need to know about, and would want to know about if they knew it existed. An ‘important news’ test I guess.
Trusting news organisations more would solve another problem, which brings me back to the Villa v Blues game yesterday. On clicking Gary Gardner, I got a stream of stories, led by The Guardian. Fair enough. Then a post from Aston Villa with a match report – because why wouldn’t you go to one of the two sides involved in a football match to get a rounded, balanced match report?!? – and a picture post from the EFL (aka the Football League) saying Gardner had scored.
But my gripe here is that this post:
appeared before this:
The top one was from a fan who was clearly happy. Whether or not it belongs in an open feed with language like that I’m not sure (Shouldn’t the bot have a profanity filter?)
The second one is from a Birmingham Mail journalist and is, arguably, an example of the sort of content the Trending feed should help you uncover. The Guardian gave the ‘news’, the club gave, er, it’s view and so on – but Gregg Evans served up an interview with the main man, with quite a back story too.
Facebook would probably argue that the fan post had had more engagement and deserved to be higher up. But is that the point of Trending? Or is the point of Trending to give people more on a subject that has enticed them to click through?
Media commentators ties themselves up in knot over whether Facebook is a tech company or a media company. The indisputable fact is that a significant chunk of the population see Facebook as a source of news.
That makes Facebook at least partly responsible for informing people and giving them a wide spread of information. For as long as the one-line, expletive joy of a football fan gets a better show than far more informative, and far more relevant, articles – be they by journalists, fans or anyone – then Facebook’s Trending box will be missing the chance to support the sharing of knowledge and news.
New organisations bring far more to Facebook than any other organisation. They add far more to society too. At some point, Facebook’s algorithm needs to reflect this.