Tackling Transparency in the Facebook Era

Sofia Elanidou, Sofía Cisneros Gavín, Sarah Markewich, Pauline Ranscelot, Stefi Stampoulian, Hande Yılmaz

If we focus on solutions rather than on problems, “transparency” might be a good choice for the 2018 Word of the Year and a logical follow up to “fake news;” the 2017 winner.

Transparency Finally Takes Off,” is one of the 2018 “Predictions for Journalism” in Nieman Lab’s list via CUNY Journalism School’s Carrie Brown Smith. She says it’s time for the media to recognize the importance of showing “exactly how they work.

Image 1 - Transparency Finally Takes Off

Whether you are The Washington Post or Facebook, in the media or tech business, “transparency” is essential when a company’s truthfulness is challenged. How a company acts at such crucial moments can make or break its reputation, even if the company is the larger than life Facebook. Unfortunately, even Facebook’s claim that it isn’t a media company, leaves a lot to be desired in terms of showing “exactly how they work.”

After the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, while under pressure from its users, the US Congress and the European Commission, Facebook went into serious damage-control mode to manage its major communication crisis and quickly updated its Community Standards, including a kind of pledge of transparency to set things straight.

At a recent Brussels Talking Lecture at the VUB, Siada El Ramly, Director General of lobby group EDiMA, which represents online platforms such as Facebook, said, “Pledges of transparency are great if followed through on,” noting that the industry as a whole is working on becoming a lot more responsible.

Will Facebook be able to preserve and restore trust?

In early May at the US F8 conference, Facebook followed up on its transparency pledge with key phrases such as creating value, giving transparency and building trust. Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice president of partnerships, said, in a post at the time: “Today, we are making several important improvements to our platform policies and developer programs with a focus on building trust with the people who use our products.”

With more than 2 billion users, Facebook is under constant scrutiny. Back in June 2017, Facebook launched “Hard Questions” to “broaden the conversation” to “talk more openly about some complex subjects” and to “explain their difficult choices.” Unfortunately, it’s safe to assume that few of the platform’s users know the Hard Question’s section exists, which makes you wonder if transparency matters if the messages don’t get through. While it’s necessary and perhaps even noble for Facebook to declare that they take the responsibility and accountability for their impact and influence seriously, the hard question remains if they will ever put their money where their mouth is.

Image 2- Facebook - Hard Questions

Transparency as a weapon

The European Commission has some tough questions for Facebook as well. On 26 April, the EC proposed measures to tackle disinformation online, including an EU-wide Code of Practice on Disinformation, support for an independent network of fact-checkers, and a series of actions to stimulate quality journalism and promote media literacy. It’s no coincidence that the “Tackling online disinformation: a European approach” 17-page document mentions “transparency” 16 times and the official press release mentions Facebook and Cambridge Analytica from the start.

In the press release, Commissioner for the Security Union, Sir Julian King, said:

The weaponisation of on-line fake news and disinformation poses a serious security threat to our societies. The subversion of trusted channels to peddle pernicious and divisive content requires a clear-eyed response based on increased transparency, traceability and accountability.”

Those are strong words that one can interpret as a clear and direct message to the mighty Facebook from the ruling powers.

As Founder of the Ethical Journalism Network Aidan White said at his recent Brussels Talking Lecture, referring to Facebook and all publishing brands, transparency, “which means saying who the bloody hell you are,” is essential for reliable and trusted information. We can only hope transparency not only becomes the 2018 Word of the Year but also truly takes off in the publishing and journalism world in the years to come.

25 thoughts on “Tackling Transparency in the Facebook Era

  1. From one journalist to another, this is great work keep it up. Even though I am one of the best sports journalist and I am more concentrated on my field, I really enjoyed this piece and I would like more from you in the future. Best regards, Bebis !!


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