Social Media News Feeds Are Today's Version of Grocery Store Tabloids!

One aspect to the Mueller report and the investigation into Russian meddling in our 2016 election is that no one has found (yet) that actual votes were altered ... but rather, we've found that Russia's goal has been to sow discord in the US political system.  We have evidence Russians caused disarray and sought to promote disharmony abroad through orchestrated disinformation.  To influence voters they developed multiple, strategic messages of persuasion to be consumed by the electorate by creating Facebook groups for example.  This tactic used by Russian agents tried to make Tweets or various stories & topics go viral.  But rather than going too deeply here into that central issue I suggest that you read more about the origins (or "oranges" as the Donald puts it) of Russian interference.  The New Yorker magazine recently published an excellent summary, but there are plenty of great sources including the Mueller Report, which I assume you are in the process of reading ... because you know it's important to be informed.  (Don't cha?)

But where does one go these days to obtain such info and how do people today get connected with news? Media experts have been saying for years that viewership is down for "broadcast journalism" as are readers of physical newspapers.  People just are not keeping up with what is going on in the world around them ... which explains why 75% of "millennials" cannot name one of their home state's senators, according to a 2015 poll. Only 23% answered the question correctly.  I contend part of the problem is that most Americans today get their news from a newsfeed on their "smart phone".

You may be one of those folks - but can't really define "what is a newsfeed?"  Facebook (FB) says it is a collection of news stories that "matter to their users the most."  Say that's a swell namby-pamby explanation.  How the heck do they "know" what matters to you most?  Data-mining.  The pay attention to what you do read, and over time they develop a profile that drives your specific "news feed ranking" on your device.  Since I encourage folks to get their info as close to the source as possible, let's let FB explain ... Facebook, with it's "News Feed Ranking" their algorithms, "leverage available 'signals' and make a set of 'predictions' that help us to estimate how 'meaningful' we think every story will be to each person on Facebook."

In other words, the list of news topics on your phone doesn't reflect the actual importance of the story ... it's a list of stories FB thinks are best suited to keep you engaged in using their platform, thereby subjecting you to more ads from their sponsors.   Which is why you may be seeing stories like:  "Don't Waste Your Money On These Useless Trucks" ... or ... "Seniors Born Before 1953 Can Save on Medicare in Michigan".  Those "stories" compete with the latest world news about elections, wars, natural disasters, sports scores, or whatever is going on.  Instead of dwelling on hard news, you're tempted to waste more time to learn why "Susan Boyle Is So Skinny Now...And Looks Gorgeous".

The emphasis on "newsfeeds" often features a great deal of sensationalism, trivial events, along with a smattering of "hard news" much like the tabloids sold at grocery store checkout counters: National Enquirer, Star, The Globe, and National Examiner.  No wonder the Russian disinformation campaign is working and millions of voters were subject to Russian trolls and computer "bots" posting articles & feedback masquerading as real American voters.

To be fair, I will confess I scan topics & stories listed on Google News daily - some days I may check multiple times ... but that's partly 'cuz I'm a bit of a news junkie.  I studied journalism & business in college and worked for several papers early in my working career.  Today, we subscribe to 3 newspapers (the Detroit Free Press since the early '70's, the Flint Journal since the '80's, and USA Today since the early 2000's after leaving Ameritech).  "We're paper-rich," we like to say here at HighPointe.  Besides that collection of print news we also watch some form of "evening news" on TV during dinner ... typically PBS or NBC, as well as one or more cable news summaries - MSNBC's Rachel Maddow ... Nicole Wallace's Deadline: White House, Brian Williams' 11th Hour.  And just to be sure nothing falls thru the cracks I listen to NPR radio through the day and often catch some of Rush Limbaugh's bombastic, negative rants which really helps time fly during my daily walk on treadmill.  When big stories break I read actual source material like gov't reports, court decisions, etc.

I've noticed some trends on the Google News page ... same with the Market-Watch "news" page ... both appear to be more interested in selling advertising then they are in keeping you informed.  With so many Baby Boomers approaching retirement age rarely does a day pass when I don't see multiple stories like this: "Don't make this 'huge mistake' with your 401(k), says one expert" and "Are there advantages to filing for Social Security at 65?". The folks at Motley Fool post stories like this daily because their mission is to sell you something ... such as their special report: "The Social Security bonus most retirees overlook." It's just $16.95 the Fool says ... but first they want your email address so that they can send more direct mail solicitations to you in the future to help you part with more of your hard-earned money.  I get it, newspapers sell ads, as do most TV and radio stations.  But it's not quite the same sort of assault on your money & your mind ... newspapers don't publish a story with a cyber link to enrich their database. But these "news feeds" are hardly providing straight news ... it's a dangerous minefield readers have to maneuver to stay informed and watch what out that you don't step in something nasty.  Which is why I am suggesting it's not a smart move to rely 100% on your Facebook Newsfeed as your sole source for information.

home ~ originally posted 04.28.19 updated 04.29.19