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Al and the platformization of journalism
Digital platforms are closely related to Al, and therefore, cultural production and consumption, as discussed in Chapter 2. Digital platforms, such as
Al journalism, social media, and fake news 115 social media platforms (e.g., Facebook and Twitter), search engines (e.g., Google), and over-the-top (OTT) service platforms (e.g., Netflix and Amazon Prime) are “fueled by data, automated and organized through algorithms, and interfaces, formalized through ownership relations driven by business models, and governed through user agreements.” These platforms “automatically collect large amounts of data—both content data and user data” (van Dijck et al., 2018, 9). In addition, “Algorithms are another significant technological ingredient defining the connective architecture of platforms,” as they are sets of automated instructions to transform input data into a desired output (see Gillespie, 2014; Pasquale, 2015, van Dijck et al., 2018, 9). In other words, algorithms play a pivotal role “in selecting what information is considered most relevant to us” (Gillespie, 2014, 167). These technological relations are related to the ownership status and business model of digital platforms.
Again, digital platforms should be understood not only by their technological aspects, but also by their commercial and cultural aspects. Digital platform owners who are primarily mega media and technology giants have developed strategies to appropriate user activities in order to transform users’ daily performances into monetary revenue resources.
During this process, platforms moderate and even curate at an increasingly enormous scale; however, they also have to remain open to the circulation of user-generated content to a degree that would never be tolerated by traditional media in order to survive in their present form (Flew, 2018b). This lack of oversight, either intentionally or unintentionally, partially provides a ground for the growth of several socio-cultural problems, including fake news.
While this is not new, the massive commercialization and commodification of platform users have further raised concerns because only a handful of platforms dominate the global markets (Jin, 2015). As Helmond (2015, 5) argues, in this regard, platformization, referring to “the rise of the platform as the dominant infrastructural and economic model of the social web and the consequences of the expansion of social media platforms into other spaces online,” has been actualized by social media platforms. For example,
Facebook employs its platform as an infrastructural model to extend itself into external online spaces and how it employs these extensions to format data for its platform to fit their economic interest through the commodification of user activities and web and app content.
(Helmond, 2015, 8)
In the realm of journalism, with the emergence of the participatory web (Jenkins, 2006), user-generated content has become a significant part of journalism as well as digital culture, as this new trend has brought noticeable changes to journalism. Social media platforms have influenced the ways in which news is reported and shared across populations and how news and information are expanded through connective social media platforms (Pangrazio, 2018, 8). Digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which originated in the Global North, as well as TikTok in China and Naver in Korea in the Global South, have been significant because they are supposed to enable a fundamental shift from the mass-mediated public sphere to the platform-driven public sphere (Benkler, 2006). The rapid circulation of news through digital platforms has
led to widespread and effective forms of media manipulation. . . . Digital platforms might democratize the creation and circulation of news, however, in doing so questions around what news is, how it gets made, shared and read in online contexts are also raised.
(Pangrazio, 2018, 8)
In fact, these platforms are expected to provide opportunities for people to mobilize themselves effectively for social change (Jin, 2015). With the rise of digital platforms, communication—in particular, journalism—has also become a more important feature of the digital society (Fuchs, 2008), as social media platforms have effectively functioned as news aggregators. While traditional news media employ professional journalists or algorithms to select content from a relatively limited set of professional news publications, on social media, everyone can share news or other content from anyone and from anywhere. This implies that what is shared tends to be a much more heterogeneous and fortuitous content mix, containing news from mainstream news agencies to the widest variety of other sources (van Dijck et al., 2018,52-53). Social media platforms, as alternative media, have provided opportunities to develop a public sphere; however, they also bring about negative dimensions due to their role in creating and spreading fake news as well as severe commodification and commercialization of news and information.
More specifically, two types of democratic disruption (instead of democratic enhancement) have occurred through social digital platforms. On the one hand, several social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, produce fake news based on their Al algorithms. On the other hand, a few social media platforms like TikTok eliminate specific information that might hurt governments and corporations and, therefore, distort truth. Although TikTok has several good features, this particular video platform used by many young people across the globe creates a new concern for many. TikTok employs Al to analyze users’ interests and preferences through their interactions with the content, and it displays a personalized content feed to each user.1 Regardless of its popularity as a relatively new social media platform, TikTok could ban “criticism/attack towards policies or social rules of any country, such as constitutional monarchy, monarchy, parliamentary system, separation of powers, and socialism system” (Deloire, 2019; Hern, 2019).
Al has intensified the platformization of journalism, as several digital platforms have functioned as a new form of journalism. While one of the major
Al journalism, social media, and fake news 117 functions in journalism is to enhance the value of the public sphere (Habermas, 1991), platforms are based within the corporate sphere, which means that Al-supported digital platforms serve corporate and economic values. Again, as Lewis (2019, 673) argues,
The implications of Al for journalism must be foregrounded in the larger context of the digitization of media and public life—a transition to apps, algorithms, social media, and the like in ways that have transformed journalism as institution: undercutting business models, upending work routines, and unleashing a flood of information alternatives to news, among other things.
Al is transformative, and its role should be understood as part of a broader context of journalism’s reconfiguration in relation to digital technologies.