How can a Facebook STB app change how we consume news?

Since Facebook debuted live video on their social media platform, it has been adopted by a number of groups for a variety of reasons. It has been used to capture significant events without the classic need for journalists or television crews. From the Democrats sitting-in while C-SPAN cameras aren’t broadcasting, to activists protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, to the president of the United States announcing a Supreme Court justice nominee.

Now some reports suggest Facebook is going to be making a TV version of their app, no doubt trying to capitalize on their burgeoning video platform. This would be similar to Twitter‘s investment in video breaking out into a full app for set-top boxes. Facebook’s media plan will be focusing around programming made by a select number of partners. They will be licensed by Facebook and include video ads. It seems to be something Facebook is investing in as they continue to grow since “it’s running out of places in the News Feed where it could insert new ads”.

While this may be fine for simple things like cooking shows or Let’s Plays, the way it could influence our news consumption would be far more interesting to analyze. Instead of hosts on news channels providing us with a list of top stories each hour, it could give us a much wider and authentic view of the world around us. Looking at the examples above, these may be things we could not have consumed before. If C-SPAN is not providing coverage of the Congress floor, we could be missing out on events happening inside. If a TV crew is unable to get to a particular area or in unwelcome, citizen journalists can broadcast the events to a global audience. It can give us a more diverse and honest look at what’s going on.

However, one area that we may need to be careful is around information asymmetry, where one party has more information than another and use that imbalance for their own purposes. This may be used by illiberal democracies to give speeches, where they can avoid the press and give propaganda directly to citizens. It may be used by extremist bodies to show brutal or gory content and inspire fear in their enemies. It could be used by trolls to give us misleading information on what’s happening in the world. It could be abused by any number of organizations that can provide us biased media that would otherwise have been blocked by a TV network.

Real journalists are a public good, acting as sources of truth and able to clear the fog of disinformation. There can be some poor journalists who work in news outlets, who misinterpret their guests or report incorrect information. Yet there are certainly some that use due diligence to write candidly.

The potential problems exist with any live streaming platform, not just Facebook Live. Yet, as these live streams become a bigger part of our lives and traditional media less, we should hope that due diligence is still performed and we are able to separate out the truth in these streams. Facebook’s new TV app can have a big impact on how we consume news and learn of information, let it’s not clear what the consequences of that impact will be.

Nick Felker

Nick Felker

Nick Felker is a student Electrical & Computer Engineering student at Rowan University (C/O 2017) and the student IEEE webmaster. When he's not studying, he is a software developer for the web and Android (Felker Tech). He has several open source projects on GitHub (http://github.com/fleker) Devices: Moto G-2013 Moto G-2015, Moto 360, Google ADT-1, Nexus 7-2013 (x2), Lenovo Laptop, Custom Desktop. Although he was an intern at Google, the content of this blog is entirely independent and his own thoughts.

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