Trending

One must be enculturated into journalistic practices. Journalism — recognizing what is supposedly in the “public interest”  — is a habitus that is acquired and to some extent taught; it is not self-evident in events that certain ones constitute news. 

No journalism comes without a set of biased values built into it, pertaining to what should be considered in the public interest. The recourse to “trending” is fantasy about getting to do away with that enculturation of journalists; instead you use your platform’s size to guide engagement toward whatever is already being engaged with. You get to make news on demand by generating an ever-changing list of “important” topics, without having to define what rises to the level of “important." 

The only "important” thing in that world is the network that is big enough to be capable of tracking what is “trending.” Facebook is the only newsmaker.

News products produced commercially reproduce the ideological conditions that allow them to be profitable products. They are made to reconstitute the demand for them. “Trending” is one flavor of that product. “Serious and in the public interest” is another flavor. 

But these flavors are shaped by genre conventions, not fidelity to some real conditions of newsworthiness.Trending stories are essentially sponsored stories for Facebook. 

Facebook is invested in the idea that truth depends on scale, and the size of their network gives them privileged access to the truth: no one else has as many users, so no one else knows what is trending, and trending is “newsworthy” by definition — it is almost tautological. 

Facebook isn’t trying to correct biases or appear objective; they are saying that sheer scale ultimately cannot be biased, and any bias lingering is users’ fault (they made their filter bubble) or the result of insufficient automation to remove curatorial bias and editorial judgment. 

Facebook wants to promote the idea that scale is the only “real” form of editorial judgment, because no one currently can compete with them in those terms.

Looking at Facebook for some sort of overarching left-right political bias misses the point of how it works altogether. Its Newsfeed is designed only to keep you consuming, not to shape your views. It wants only to persuade you to stay on Facebook, by whatever combination of content performs that trick. 

Facebook only cares about offering Trending insofar as it gets you to not close the tab. And that is a literal sideshow to the main even on Facebook, the newsfeed. The newsfeed algorithms are built to do one thing: manufacture demand for more Facebook, which takes the form of more of whatever content Facebook can seize upon and redistribute to you.

If the algorithmic brainwashing is working, the newsfeed doesn’t make users want more news of some ideological stripe; it makes us want more of Facebook making choices for us: That is the product enjoyed, not the content of what stories are being chosen. The stories are just the fuel powering the fun mill that is the newsfeed’s continual turning.

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