11.14.2011 | Social reading and free will

I love the new social reading feature I'm seeing on Facebook. I get to see what my friends are reading; my friends get to see what I'm reading, and there's no effort required to go through the sharing process. More information = better. What could be better?

Well, here's the problem with social reading as I see it: you're giving up free will. Which isn't necessarily a problem in itself, so much as the fact that you don't get to see an article's contents before clicking on the headline, which generates an automatic share. Your friends see that you've "read" the article whether or not it ended up living up to your expectations. Things spread quickly enough on the Internet that a bunch of your friends could end up "reading" it too, and the chain continues.

So the temptation for journalists, as if it weren't strong enough already, is to write a sensational headline and then back it up poorly with incomplete or contradictory facts.

Take this article for instance: I decided "free will" was the best way to describe what it was about. But it's an exaggeration—of course you can go back and delete an article you've shared. You're not really giving up free will; it just takes a bit of extra effort to exercise it.

But it's not too much of an exaggeration either. So much of Internet use is predicated on what's easier, that an opt-out process for sharing might as well be equated with the use of force. But not really. You get the idea.

It's a challenge for publications to bring in new revenue these days, and if social reading generates more traffic, that has to be a good thing. But I hope journalists don't lose sight of the fact either that their first obligation is to report the facts truthfully and accurately.

0 Comments Links to this post