A strange thing happened on the BBC News site yesterday.
The Most Popular Stories Now section on the BBC news site, which you will find on all BBC news stories at the bottom of the right-hand column, featured a piece about the performance of a London primary school in the latest league tables.
Most Popular Stories Now service is a good way to strike a balance between foisting editorial judgment on the reader, and letting the reading public determine what’s most important in today’s stories.
Except that it doesn’t quite do this. What it does (in presenting the most read articles in real-time, by popularity) is show those stories which have generated most clicks over the time-period. The reasons why they’ve been clicked most will forever be shrouded in mystery – it could be because they strike a chord with most people, or it could be because a motivated group have chosen to boost the popularity of their cause by bombarding the system with clicks.
The ‘tyranny of the masses’ approach to news is prone to exploitation and hoax – and you can get a feel for how it works in practice by taking an occasional look at Topix (which I’ve ‘reviewed’ elsewhere). Those with the loudest voice set the agenda – and often lead us all down the road towards issues they see as important, but which fly low on the majority’s news radar.