Discover more from Unannounced
Algorithms Are Shaping Reality: A Journalistic Fight
Journalism is now an algorithm.
Journalism is now an algorithm.
Public enlightenment, by creating awareness of reality, is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Throughout centuries, information distribution had been in the hands of journalism professionals; people are prepared to select relevant material to distribute to citizens so they can make good-informed- decisions. There lies the crucial role of journalism in democracy.
Fast forward to this decade, where the ways of consuming information have drastically changed. There has been a democratization of information: everyone can publish, and anyone can have access to it. Therefore, the amount of information out there is unmeasurable. How can we filter this to get the most relevant pieces?
How The Algorithm Shapes Us
I firmly believe that, as our worldview is mainly formed by what and with whom we interact, we become what we surround ourselves with. We also live in a moment where social media is a huge part of everyone’s life; therefore, we partly become the content we consume.
So, what content are we consuming?
What the algorithm shows us! And, as the popular Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, states, that is probably a reaffirmation of our worldview, which is dangerous because it may even be at the expense of objective truth.
So this is how it works: Every online action is monitored and helps build a picture of who we are as individuals. This information feeds the algorithm and decides what content we’ll be served later. So, basically, social media feeds can become echo chambers.
What is happening to journalism, then?
Journalists’ role descriptions expanded (and without a salary increase) from mainly informing to influencing how people get informed. They all deserve a raise. Now, media outlets are developing new strategies to better serve the audience after this shift to an audience-centric perspective.
But journalists are not only victims of this phenomenon and a mea culpa is necessary: They are also responsible due to inaccuracies from bad journalistic practices like careless reporting, poor fact-checking, and a lack of expertise. The audience wants news organizations to focus more on accuracy rather than speeding to publish. So when it comes to increasing trust, sticking to objective reporting and editorial standards is the starting point.
A key challenge facing journalists now is getting quality, fact-based information in front of people who are not regular news consumers. This is important because people’s beliefs around issues can have real-world consequences, particularly regarding political affiliation.
The Dark Side Of Algorithms
Cathy O’Neil, a mathematician, data scientist, and author of Weapons of Math Destruction, was “struck” by what she thought was essentially a lie -namely, that algorithms were being presented and marketed as objective fact. According to her, a much more accurate description of an algorithm is that it is an opinion embedded in math. She affirms that “algorithms are not objective; algorithms make things work for the builders of the algorithms”.
And apparently, algorithms are not that difficult to build; you need essentially two things: a historical data set and a definition of success. O’Neil also states that every time an algorithm is built, data is curated, success is defined, and values are embedded into algorithms. This means that we need to be able to question them as they are extremely powerful in our daily lives.
Working With The Enemy
Journalism can’t win the fight against algorithms; therefore, as public servants, journalists should focus on making society aware of how algorithms communicate specific values. With that approach, the way people handle information is open to improvement.
A complementary path is for media professionals to focus on transparency in their content creation process, making it possible for the audience to fact-check for themselves.
It is urgent to make journalism relevant in the lives of future generations so they will take care of this important democracy-ally.