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The Ethical Dimensions of News Algorithms

The final speaker in this ECREA 2014 session is Katharina Hollnbuchner, whose focus is on the ethical dimension of algorithms. Such ethics sit at the intersection between media ethics and cyberethics, and a wide range of ethical issues are now being studied at this intersection. An interesting question in this is how algorithms should be understood: are they agents, or are they tools?

Which issues are raised concerning algorithmic selection and journalism, then? This is a question of design: what is the algorithm designed to do, and how clear is its intended mission?

The Impact of Algorithms on Public Opinion Formation

The next speaker in is ECREA 2014 session is Arjen van Dalen, whose interest is in the impact of algorithms on public opinion formation at the micro (individual), meso (discussion) and macro (social networks) level; his focus here is on the latter.

Algorithms transform such public opinion formation: some 30% of users read news on social media, and that number is likely to increase. The business strategies of news media are increasingly adjusted to this trend, and the number of social media engagements with news (likes, shares, etc.) are increasingly being used by journalists as an indicator of public opinion, too.

Algorithms and the Cybernetic Audience for Journalism

The next speaker in this ECREA 2014 panel is Chris Anderson, who directs our focus to the journalistic audience as a raw material for algorithms. Historically, audiences were first constructed as professionalised: they were insulated from journalistic practice. Later, a dialogue understanding of the audience saw it filtered through national issue forums (e.g. town halls), and became a discursive participant; finally, the audience was seen as an active in both politics and the media, especially with the arrival of Internet-based communication technologies.

Regulatory Approaches to Algorithmic Markets

The next ECREA 2014 speaker is Natascha Just, who highlights the high level of concentration to a handful of leading players in many markets where algorithms play a key role (e.g. search engines, social media, news aggregators); this also creates challenges for competition policy. Should law interfere in such fast-moving, innovative markets – for example in the search engine markets?

Market dominance alone is no reason to intervene in a market – only if the company exploits its position through anticompetitive behaviour a trigger for intervention emerges. The challenge, then, is to understand how these markets operate and where the focus of competition analysis should be.

Issues in Designing News Selection Algorithms

The post-lunch session at ECREA 2014 today starts with panel chair Michael Latzer, introduces the role of algorithms in shaping our reality and guiding our actions. There is now a range of algorithmic selection services which shape our consumption choices; these include search applications, aggregation, observation and surveillance, forecast and prognosis, filtering, recommendation, scoring and reputation, automated content production, and allocation (e.g. computational advertising) applications.

But the first speaker is Sean Munson, whose focus is on news algorithms. Back in 1970, some 50% of US adults watched the nighly news broadcasts; this percentage has dropped off, in favour of regional, ideological, fake, thematically specific, and other niche news services. A majority percentage of users now use news aggregator sites, and many also draw on social media for their news; this may have created the 'Daily Me', but may also lead to the development of disconnected filter bubbles.

Activist Facebook Pages as a Fifth Estate in Finland

The next ECREA 2014 speaker is Niina Niskala, whose interest is in Finnish uses of Facebook. Are there communicative power groups that can be seen as examples of social and political movements or even as a 'fifth estate': a network of online individuals able to collaborate to an extent that it challenges the other estates and creates real-world power shifts?

The project gathered data from those of the most popular Finnish Facebook pages that support specific causes or missions or engage in political protest or support. These were analysed for a number of key attributes, and later analysis focussed on the six largest and six smallest of the groups.

Patterns of Discussion on Twitter around the German NSA Surveillance Scandal

Next up at ECREA 2014 is Sanja Kapidzic, whose interest is in how the NSA scandal was communicated in Germany via Twitter. The public sphere is seen here as having a triadic structure, between journalists, official spokespeople, and citizens. Traditionally, this has been dominated by the mass media, but shifts toward online communication have changed this balance; direct bidirectional communication is now possible between all three points of the triad.

This is especially notable in social media environments such as Twitter; however, new hierarchies and elites may also emerge here. What are the new structures of influence in this context, then?

Four Models of Media Pluralism

The next speaker at ECREA 2014 is Daniëlle Raeijmakers; her interest is in media pluralism. The concept itself is widely supported, but tends to be poorly defined; there are a number of different conceptions that may be used to understand it.

The first of these is a liberal model: democracy functions through social heterogeneity, and media are expected to cover such differences authentically. The second, deliberative model expects that media do not just contribute to a politician consensus, but provide the public debate to construct the consensus, serving as a public forum. The third, agonistic model positions media as sites of struggle, which should cultivate political debate but do not necessarily produce a concensus.

The Three Phases of WikiLeaks

The second day at ECREA 2014 starts with a paper by Christian Christensen, on WikiLeaks. He's interested in the implications of WikiLeaks for the wider media reform movement: WikiLeaks and Anonymous are an expression of the disenchantment with mainstream commercial media, even in spite of such media's occasional ability to engage in impactful investigative journalism.

The Impact of Trust on News Selection on Social Media

Finally, Kristin van Damme is back with another ECREA 2014 paper, on the role of trust in news selection through social media. Social media platforms now play a role as news aggregators where users as well as the platforms are sharing the news; Kristin surveyed Flemish news users on their use of news and social media to explore these issues.

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