Gatekeeping in the digital era. Is it necessary?

The Facebook Fact Checker Policy

Academic Paper, 2013

18 Pages



1. Introduction
1.1 A Brief History of Facebook
1.2 Research Hypothesis

2 Literature Review
2.1 Ab ignition: The Media Institution as a Gatekeeper

3 Methodology

4 Analysis of Mark Zuckerberg’s Update on Introducing Facebook Fact Checking Policy
4.1 An Excerpt of Mark Zuckerberg’s Post
4.2 Facebook Users Opinion Analysis and Testing of Hypothesis

5 Conclusion and Recommendation



In December 2016 through a post by its Chief Executive officer Facebook declared it will be introducing a fact checker policy to guide against misinformation on the platform. This declaration has been accompanied with various reactions by members of the forum. While some accept the policy, the others frown at it for various reasons. So, the focus of this work was developed to evaluate the opinion of members of the Facebook Community forum on the Fact Checking policy of Facebook. The specific objective for this study is expressed in the questions thus: what is the level of acceptability of the Facebook Fact Checking policy and is it necessary in this era of Freedom of expression and opinion? The media survey research design was used for this study. The study selected the users who responded to Mark Zuckerberg’s Update on Introducing Facebook Fact Checking Policy as the population for the study as the population for the study. Hence, the population size was 12,280. Using the Taro Yamane formula for determining sample size, the selected sample from the population for the study was approximately 400. The primary data collected for the analysis were calculated using simple percentages and the hypothesis was tested using. The study found out that despite that a majority of Facebook users appreciated the innovation they did not believe it was necessary, most especially considering they believe that the Fact checker institution contracted by Facebook are politically motivated. This study therefore recommended that the need for objectivity among 21st century fact checker institutions.

1. Introduction

"The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." - Thomas Jefferson, the third president of United States (1787).

In the libertarian theory of the mass media, freedom of expression and opinion are held in high esteem. Libertarian theory or the Free Press theory is one of the normative theories of mass communication where media or press is given absolute freedom to publish anything at any time and acts as a watchdog. The theory came from the libertarian thoughts of Europe during the 16th century after the invention of printing press and after the press movement. It was advocated by many renowned personalities like Lao Tzu, John Locke, John Milton, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson, etc. and is still famous countries like Europe and America (Businesstopia, 2017). In a complete example of the theory, it is expected that the masses and the media are granted the right to make comments or criticize the policies without any government interference. It also prevents the growing effect of corruption by making government as much transparent as possible and keeping people aware of their works.

This stands against the one sided, bottle necked, up-down flow of information of the authoritarian system of press operation, where information is controlled by the state or the authorities. The free press system has its ecstasy in the right to freedom of expression (say whatever he or she feels to say) and freedom to hold opinions (that believe to be true even against the current trend of information)(Asemah, 2011). But, years after the adoption of the free press, these rights were still to a great extent handicapped by the pushiness of gate keepers and the gate keeping function of institutionalised media organisations. Radsch (2012) reports from a research that "if you look at the population, it's a bit more dire, we found that only about 14.5 percent of the world's inhabitants live in a country with a free press, where they can express themselves, the press is economically independent and free from political interference, and this is, of course, incredibly disturbing."

Years after, the practice of journalism, in a restricted liberal environment monitored by gate keepers and the gate keeping process, was unregimented by the arrival of the Internet. The Internet which came initially to assist the static and delayed flow of information, as it evolved, did not only proffer solution to the flow of information and its interactivity but it end up unchaining the watchdog of society – the media. The advent of the Internet in the late 19th century opened doors of greater opportunity for journalists in the liberalist press. It shifted the role of gate keeping and fact shifting from the institution operation a media organisation to the practitioners, themselves. More so, the consumers of media content, news and entertainment, were also vested with the onus to scrutinise news feeds for themselves and decided to consider as truth and what to discard as false.

Much more, the Internet provided a platform for media practitioners to interact with their audience. Audience from all angles could comment on news feeds, order for a reorganisation, give possible clue for next point of call and argue out conflicting topics. In fact, audience members on web based news organisations became the gate keepers themselves, monitoring and censoring information provided to them by themselves and for themselves. These new opportunities made possible by the Internet, to a great extent, heighted the participation of citizen in serving as the eyes and ears of society. Everybody with a computer and a modem was a possible journalist. As a result of this journalists became both producers as well as consumers of his or her news feed or that of other participants. Everything information was free at the cost of secular data subscription. At long last, the liberty of the media increased, as reporters could publish their stories which might have possibly been bar is it went through the paths of conventional gate keeping.

With the much availability of information to choose from, timely and timeless access to this information, information recipients became endeared to information consumption. Of course, this moves engendered a greater dimension of the core aim of libertarian theory of the media which states that, “new media should be free to report on public issues so that crucial features of liberal society can be maintained, for example the protection of right such as free speech, or the monitoring of abuses of power” (Ward, 2014). From its history and doctrine, the liberal theory has distinguished itself through its enthusiasm for freedom to speak and publish. The theory acclaimed that everyone in society is rational and can decide what should be accepted as truth and what should be discarded as false, provided they are granted access to the amount of information sufficient enough to guide the decision making process.

It is therefore not a surprise that as society developed and evolved, the insider politics of institutionalised media house began to show up. The game of political as well as ownership interest as played by the media with the dictum: “he who pays the piper dictates the tune” became obvious to the end that news consumers took to the Internet as the well as the social media for their feed, because, there they can argue what they think is false and give consent to the news stories they believe to be true. With this turn of things, it became a wide belief that consumers’ interest in the new media news outlet because of its availability and interactivity.

However, the trend of things is about to change as leading social media platform – Facebook declared in December 2017 through a post by its Chief Executive officer in its community forum that it will be introducing a fact checker policy to guide against misinformation on the platform (Zuckerberg,2016). Following this declaration, there has be various reactions by members of the forum who happen to also be members of the general Facebook community towards the innovation. While some accept the policy, the others frown at it for various reasons. Hence, the focus of this work therefore is to evaluate the opinion of members of the Facebook Community forum on the Fact Checking policy of Facebook. The specific objective for this study is expressed in the questions thus: what is the level of acceptability of the Facebook Fact Checking policy and is it necessary in this era of Freedom of expression and opinion?

1.1 A Brief History of Facebook

In February 2004, Mark Zuckerberg, with the help of Andrew McCollum and Eduardo Saverin, launched a website that would change online social interaction forever. The Facebook started on the campus of Harvard University, where the three friends were students, Zuckerberg being a psychology major of all things. Within 24 hours of going live, The Facebook was a community of 1200 Harvard University students. The Facebook buzz grew on the Harvard campus and within weeks students from Stanford and Yale wanted in. The network was extended and by April 2004, The Facebook was available on all Ivy League servers. October 2004, Zuckerberg had the money, the manpower, and the institutional backing to go global.

In September 2006, Facebook expanded once again. Now anyone with a valid email address could sign up and populate their profile with their stats, and signup they did. Even after a bit of bad press with the introduction of the “News Feed” feature, which as labelled intrusive and viewed as a violation of privacy by many of its long-time users, membership continued to grow. In fact, between May 2006 and May 2007 Facebook traffic grew by an astonishing 89%. Facebook remained a closed network until May 2007, when Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was to become the “social operating system for the Internet.” Up until that time, the Facebook platform was for Facebook alone, but now, users could integrate all of their Internet activities into their single Facebook profile.

The next step for Facebook was direct advertising. In August 2007 Facebook announced that it was looking to “translate its popularity into bigger profits” by offering advertisers direct access to their targeted demographic consumers. Indeed, Zuckerberg and Co. were certainly within their right to exploit the popularity of the phenomena.

1.2 Research Hypothesis

H0: Facebook Fact Checking Policy is a kind of content censorship scheme that Facebook users do not want.

H0: Facebook users have a problem with the Fact Checking Institution employed by Facebook not the Fact Checking Policy itself.

2 Literature Review

2.1 Ab ignition:The Media Institution as a Gatekeeper

Without doubt, media outlets also serve a gatekeeping function, which means they affect or control the information that is transmitted to their audiences. Overall, the mass media serves four gatekeeping functions: relaying, limiting, expanding, and reinterpreting (Bittner, 1996 cited in Roberts, 2005). In terms of relaying, mass media institutions require some third party to get a message from one human to the next. Whereas interpersonal communication only requires some channel or sensory route, mass media messages need to “hitch a ride” on an additional channel to be received.

It was a predominant activity, in terms of the gatekeeping function of limiting flow of information that, media outlets decide whether or not to pass something along to the media channel so it can be relayed. Because most commercial media space is so limited and expensive, almost every message we receive is edited, which is inherently limiting. A limited message doesn’t necessarily mean the message is bad or manipulated, as editing is a necessity. But a range of forces including time constraints, advertiser pressure, censorship, or personal bias, among others, can influence editing choices. Limiting based on bias or self-interest isn’t necessarily bad as long as those who relay the message don’t claim to be objective. In fact, many people choose to engage with media messages that have been limited to match their own personal views or preferences. This kind of limiting also allows us to have more control over the media messages received (Storm, 2007).

2.1.1 In mididio: Advent of the Internet and the Gate keeping Dysfunctions

The arrival of the Internet as a mass communication source has further sparked considerations of gatekeeping in both scholarly research and in popular press. Singer (2001), for example, studied how traditional newspapers (now referred to as “mainstream” media, or MSM in some Internet parlance) chose to link or not to link to Web sites, and how those decisions forced more decisions by gatekeepers. Others are Williams and Carpini (2000), who claim that gatekeeping seems to be passé – if one information source will not publish something, another one (that is just as easy to find online) will publish it. Bloggers10 were reacting to that remark what seemed to be real time, leading blogger (and former Entertatinment Weekly magazine editor Jeff Jarvis) to remark: “We (in mainstream media) used to be gatekeepers” (Kurtz, 2005).

Albeit, Shoemaker (2005) disagree with the past tense of Jarvis’ statement, noting that gatekeeping is a “fundamental psychological process” of every human. But she would agree with the past tense when applied to the Internet, too. “This is not an original thought,” she said, “but each time we come across a new media, we ask new questions that are really old questions.” “Web loggers,” or people who use an Internet application to post text onto Web sites. The statements are usually displayed in reverse order they are posted online. Thousands of people have “blogs” that allow them to make news or comment upon it. Gatekeeping continues to exist despite the new technology and the new gatekeepers, Shoemaker argues but only much faster. But Robert (2005) agrees that there are up coming and interesting researchers on issue of how gatekeeping has changed with the Internet – and how the Internet may be changing traditional news gatekeeping. These changes according Hermida (2010) are facilitated because:


Excerpt out of 18 pages


Gatekeeping in the digital era. Is it necessary?
The Facebook Fact Checker Policy
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
gatekeeping, facebook, fact, checker, policy
Quote paper
Edikan Ukpong (Author), 2013, Gatekeeping in the digital era. Is it necessary?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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