Editorial responsibility & algorithmic transparency

Editorial responsibility & algorithmic transparency

Thisrefers to the code of conduct which describes the responsibilities of publishers, editors and journalists towards the public. The code includes basic fundamentals such as the care that must be taken to “avoid publishing inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures”. (Ansgar Koene et al).

Algorithmic transparency is openness about the purpose, structure and underlying actions of the algorithms used to search for, process and deliver information.

News organizations and Social media platforms alike daily harness user data; behavioral patterns, sentiments, conversations and more to understand user preferences so as to optimize their content to suit the users. Once upon a time there were absolutely no transparency in how the algorithms behind these platforms made the decisions of what to show or not to show to users.

In the past couple of years, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter began working towards transparency by giving users power to decide and tell the algorithms what they don’t want to see, or want to see.

How publishers are taking responsibility

Facebook deployed a “why am I seeing this” feature. Twitter deployed a similar feature with “I’m not interested in this”, a function that gave the user more ability to tell the algorithm the type of content he/she is not interested in.

Once upon a time, social media platform owners argued that they did not publish content, but rather reshaped what people see, thus they are not responsible for downstream circumstances that may be created by decisions their algorithms make.

A common method used to provide transparency and ensure algorithmic accountability is the use of third party audits. This approach is known as qualified transparency. After complaints were made to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about the search giant Google, for example, watch-dog algorithms created by FTC staffers found that Google’s search algorithms generally caused its own services to appear ahead of others in search results.

To provide transparency, the criteria used in the evaluation, as well as the results, were publicly released and explained. Although the FTC decided Google’s actions were not anti-competitive in nature, the negative publicity the investigation created inspired Google to make changes.

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