In breaking news, the world turns to Facebook

The video of the police killing of Philando Castile has cemented Facebook’s increasing role as a primary source of news in the country.

Is there anything wrong with that?

Maybe, argue Joseph Cox and Jason Koebler on Motherboard this afternoon.

Specifically, they’re concerned that the Facebook Live video of a dying Philandro Castile disappeared for a time shortly after it was posted.

“We’re very sorry that the video was inaccessible,” Facebook said in a statement. “It was down to a technical glitch and restored as soon as we were able to investigate.”

Cox and Koebler aren’t necessarily buying that reason and suggest a problem with Facebook as guardian of information .

As Facebook continues to build out its Live video platform, the world’s most popular social network has become the de-facto choice for important, breaking, and controversial videos. Several times, Facebook has blocked political or newsworthy content only to later say that the removal was a “technical glitch” or an “error.”

In April, for instance, Facebook temporarily blocked six pro-Bernie Sanders groups and five groups supporting Filipino politician Rodrigo Duerte. It elected to leave up a video depicting the murder of its videographer, Antonio Perkins, but removed a live video uploaded by ISIS sympathizer Larossi Abballa, who filmed himself after murdering two people in France. Facebook has also removed images of women breastfeeding and images of breast cancer survivors’ mastectomies.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans get their news from social media, and two thirds of Facebook users say they use the site to get news. If Facebook is going to become the middleman that delivers the world’s most popular news events to the masses, technical glitches and erroneous content removals could be devastating to information dissemination efforts.

More importantly, Facebook has become the self-appointed gatekeeper for what is acceptable content to show the public, which is an incredibly important and powerful position to be in. By censoring anything, Facebook has created the expectation that there are rules for using its platform (most would agree that some rules are necessary). But because the public relies on the website so much, Facebook’s rules and judgments have an outsized impact on public debate.

  • Gary F

    One good thing is that it bypasses the gatekeepers in the mainstream media. One bad thing is that they have their own gatekeepers that squelch views they don’t like.

    • Which is what brings up the question of whether the democratization of information is actually possible?

      • Mike Worcester

        By “democratization” are you thinking the full removal of any filters and such? Is that a really good idea? I’m not wholly sure but would be curious to hear what others think.

      • Gary F

        Yes. You just have more players and opinions. And yes, EVERY source has a bias, including MPR/NPR. It also means you have to put out the effort to find and actually read more than one source. And, it also means that many news sources will stick to click bait and “news” for low information voters.

    • lindblomeagles

      I see it a little differently than you do. Facebook has increased the number of free-lance reporting and community tips (see Philando Castile shooting and review messages Orlando Mateen sent about his murderous rampage before news trucks actually arrived), while, simultaneously, taking news from its current prime time focus to a 24 hour must read cycle. But this might not be good for actual newspapers, who take the time to get the facts right before submitting to print and then it being delivered to newsstands and front doors, and the news business now requires a lot of “after the fact” follow up investigating to make sure Facebook’s earlier news posts were accurately reported, for example, the hostage situation in Bangladesh, which ISIS initially claimed responsibility for, but was later suggested that situation was led by home-grown terrorists instead of ISIS.

  • PaulJ

    How is “news” defined? Is it different from hearsay or propaganda?

  • Jerry

    I’m not going to trust them as a news source when they can’t seem to grasp the importance of “chronological order”.

    (I’m also looking in your direction, Twitter)

  • Kurt O

    Facebook and Twitter seem more like Eye-Witness Accounts than reporting. Kind of like people lining up to talk to a live TV reporter to get on the air.

  • Jeff

    I just recently discovered the streaming feature on Facebook last weekend, wow, was it essential to get the word out about this incident. We need more people to record these types of incidents to increase awareness, this is how laws are changed and this is how you put power into the hands of the common person. Police/authorities will change how they operate when they know they’re being watched.

    • MarkUp

      Essential is definitely the right word. If that video wasn’t live streamed, it would still have been on the phone, confiscated by the same cop that pulled the trigger. We may never have seen that footage at all.

  • Al

    I think Facebook, Twitter, Periscope have to have a place, but I’m not sure what that place is. It might be helpful to have one central body dictating statute for what needs to stay on these platforms (and what can’t be “edited out”), but I certainly don’t believe the government is capable of serving as that body, given their track record about being timely with ANYTHING internet-related.

    It’s evident with the Arab Spring, the death of Philando Castile, the Dem House sit-in, and other events captured by social media what a powerful and unique tool it can be.

  • CHS

    There is a real danger in viewing things like Facebook as a public service rather than a company that exists to make money for the shareholders. Facebook has no obligation to be the conduit for free and open news or information, and can censor as they wish for whatever reasons they want. They already do this to abide by rules in countries they want to do business in, all internet companies do. Companies like Facebook also want to control the feeds you see as a means to turn around and deliver specific content to you, all as a means to making more money.

  • Khatti

    Hey…it’s where I found out Gretchen Carlson is suing Roger Ailes.

    But yeah, facebook is not the place I’m going to go to learn about the latest tax law or what the Fed is going to do about interest rates. that’s just not facebook’s function.

    • Khatti

      It would appear that facebook has had one, detrimental effect on me: I no longer capitalize facebook.

    • Mike Worcester

      While FB or Twitter, etc is good for hearing that breaking news, it also on too many occasions makes me have to divert to sites like Snopes or Truthorfiction or FactCheck because I’ll read an item and think to myself “that just sounds too odd to believe”.

  • Jessica Ryan

    One thing that worries me most about the continued evolution of news and how and where we consume it is the next generation.

    Growing up, there was no “social media” and I learned what was a reputable news source and what wasn’t. I grew up on newspapers, informational magazines, and news radio, and where there was time for a pause of thought to get facts straight. I know that while Facebook can be a starting point, I need to leave that site to find actual facts and confirmed information.

    My daughter is growing up in a world where Facebook is the norm and I worry that our future generations will simply live in a world of sensationalism and confirmation bias (as we know social media feeds are expertly groomed based on data about where you’ve been and what you’ve liked).

    I work in the data field and I love innovation and technology. I think in general, it is a great thing, and as demonstrated, Facebook Live was the only source of truth in the death of Philando Castile. However, I worry about the online lynch mobs, the constant need for instant information/gratification, and the fact that humans often can’t conduct themselves like humans when sitting in front of a screen instead of another person. In the meantime, I work really hard as a parent to show my daughter that I still listen to NPR in the car, carry a print subscription to National Geographic, and read the local newspaper that lands on our front step (for the time being).