Ethics Center Proposes Guidelines for Ethical Distribution of News
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What is common about the role of ethics in the spheres of journalism and news distribution? How can news distribution be better aligned with democratic norms in an environment dominated by content creation? Subramaniam “Subbu” Vincent, director of journalism and media ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, sought to find an answer to these questions.
Vincent, with a grant from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, convened and led a group of industry experts in the News Distribution Ethics Roundtable. Discussions were held over the course of four virtual meetings in 2021 and 2022 and included leaders from technology, journalism, and academia, whose common interest is that both the creation of news and its distribution must better serve democracy. The group created a set of principles that news platforms (social media and internet search companies who distribute news) can adopt to exercise ethical online news distribution practices.
As Vincent says, news distribution "shapes discourse and our role in it [and] it impacts outcomes for public policy and democracy." He also emphasized the importance of news distribution as an aspect of today’s online media experience. Vincent noted that content moderation receives tremendous attention, but news distribution happens every second. “Starting with a foundation of ethics for news distribution, particularly for democracies, is as critical as the evolution of content moderation policies for user-generated content,” added Vincent.
The recommendations created by the group offer multiple key takeaways, the most important of which is the importance of transparency in news distribution. From identifying definitions of key terms to disclosing the data surrounding user engagement, the recommendations encourage news distributors to be transparent and to help build shared oversight mechanisms. This in turn may help platforms update the designs of their news distribution systems to bolster mitigation against amplifying disinformation and elevating unreliable sources. That in turn will help foster democratic discourse while respecting the rights of individuals and groups.
The Ethics Center is opening a public input form along with the release of the recommendations. If you are a news curator, policy leader, product manager, UX designer, tech journalist, fact-checker, or playing a role in sorting or elevating journalism, the News Distribution Ethics team welcomes your input. The initial comment period is open until December 31, 2022. The recommendations can be viewed and commented on at: https://www.scu.edu/ethics/nde-2022/.
Read Vincent's own summary of the process to hear his personal insight and understand more about the journey of the News Distribution Ethics Roundtable here.
Lucas Bush ’23, political science and ethnic studies major and a marketing and communications intern with the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, contributed to this story.