A case of media bias? The Sun, MySpace and Facebook

Is The Sun (owner: Rupert Murdoch) indulging in a campaign of partisan reporting designed to damage Facebook, one of the main rivals to MySpace (owner: Rupert Murdoch)?

That’s a question that has been raised a few times on blogs (such as towards the end of this posting [Update - or here on Liberal Conspiracy]), so I thought I would take a look at The Sun’s website and compare the coverage on there of Facebook versus MySpace.

To be fair to The Sun, I asked the site’s own search engine to give me the top fifteen headlines for stories including the word “MySpace” and then the same for “Facebook”. These aren’t my choices or someone else’s search engine at work. This is what The Sun says, as it were.

Let’s take Facebook first:

Negative stories about Facebook or what people have done via Facebook

  • Hit in the Facebook
  • Facebook party turns violent
  • ‘Shank’ website is aimed at the kids who carry knives
  • Facebook left users ‘at risk’
  • Lily and her ex Ed split … again (Although the headline may sound neutral, the story went on to say things such as “It baffles me why anyone, let alone a celeb, would see fit to announce that on Faceache.”)
  • Facebook party is a washout
  • £22k ‘Facebook’ damages win
  • Rapebook: Broadmoor beast lures girls online
  • Man sues pal over Facebook
  • Georgina’s sad Facebook find
  • ‘Knife pal’ net game scrapped
  • Facebook pics put on sex site
  • ‘Hooker’ caught in internet hoax

Positive stories about Facebook or stories that are neutral about the site but promote traffic to it

  • McCanns back Facebook
  • Facelift for Facebook

That’s 13-2 against Facebook. So how about MySpace?

Negative stories about MySpace:

  • My guy fancies someone else

Err, that’s it. I think you can guess what therefore comes next …

Positive stories about MySpace:

  • MySpace justice for crash victim
  • MTV and MySpace launch show
  • Lily Allen’s latest Ed-ition on web
  • Manda has come of age
  • MySpace squares up to iTunes
  • Networking sites ban kid pervs (This also gives Facebook a positive mention.)
  • Find the new stars up in Space
  • I become friend 240,000,001
  • Cactus abducts pregnant girl (Yes, really.)
  • DJ Sam defends little Lohan sis
  • Celeb girls hit the decks
  • MySpace profile is ‘new CV’
  • Page 3 girl’s MySpace joy
  • The Sun gets its apps out

So, that would be 14 positive stories about MySpace compared to 1 negative. A bit different from the 2 positive against 13 negative stories about Facebook.

So is the The Sun consistently biased in favour of the company owned by The Sun’s owner at the expense of a commercial rival? There certainly are some questions to be answered as this imbalance is completely out of kilter with their relative traffic levels or with the scope for wrong-doing on either system (all the nasty things reported about Facebook can also happen on MySpace).

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19 Comments

  • Perhaps I should do a search on Lib Dem Voice for positive and negative stories about Lib Dems and Conservatives. Of course he’s going to big up his own company! Why is this a story?

  • Spanny Thomas 2nd Aug '08 - 1:41pm

    Quite. It is no more than a re-worked I-$KY column from Private Eye.

  • Bibliophylax 2nd Aug '08 - 1:46pm

    And still worth pointing out.

  • Bibliophylax 2nd Aug '08 - 1:48pm

    Also, a flaw in Tom’s analogy is that the Sun describes itself as ‘the best for news’, not ‘the best for Murdoch-friendly news’, whereas there is something of a clue in the name Lib Dem Voice. :)

  • This is a serious story because questions of attribution and accuracy are being played off in the public sphere between public opinion and commercial interest and is an area covered by copyright and libel laws.

    Ultimately there reaches a tipping point for any private media outlet where the reputation it has built reflects upon whether it is damaging to wider society and thence its own ability to survive in a commercial environment. In return this plays into BBC license fee debates and how to manage and maintain balance of output in the media.

    An interesting comparison is how many Iranian newspapers require official backing to survive financially because they regularly step over the line which divides news from propaganda and discourage the general sales which would enable them to exist independently and provide reliable, trustworthy and useful information to their readership.

    So it is a sensitive area of political concern which can become highly controversial, especially if whispers of mooted reforms of the BBC charter or libel and copyright laws come closer to fruition – which is inevitably the case in the run-up to every general election as sides are taken by those who wish to invest in trying to influence the debate.

  • Spanny Thomas 2nd Aug '08 - 6:57pm

    It is hardly worth pointing out. It is a total non-story from someone who usually does far better.

  • Mark Wright 3rd Aug '08 - 11:39am

    Good post Mark, very interesting to see how blatent it is. Mind you the number of Facebook users who read The Sun must be tiny…

  • Spanny Thomas 3rd Aug '08 - 12:08pm

    Private Eye have been running similar stories for years, showing how Murdoch plugs his own businesses and ventures in his papers.

    Of course he has the news edited to suit his agenda. Look at the News Int’l line on China for instance.

    I am surprised that anyone, but ANYONE, would be surprised at this.

    As Blogs go this was weak (which was surprising as I like your blogs usually). What is your next stunning revelation, Bears **** in the woods.

  • Spanny Thomas 3rd Aug '08 - 3:00pm

    MatGB, the Private Eye readership may be tiny in your view but I am sure it is far more than this blog. I wonder how many Sun readers are intelligent enough to read this forum ?

    The issue for News Int’l as I see it is denigrating a rival in a similar industry has a knock on effect on ones own product.

    I do not think people here are “Anti-pack” as is claimed, but it is valid to call into question this piece without being against Mark’s other blogs. We are about free speech after all.

  • hmm… all criticism is good, some is more helpful than others.

    Let’s give the Sun the benefit of the doubt (not that they need it) for a moment: perhaps they aren’t consciously aware of any overt bias in their spiralling self-perpetuation of their own interests at the expense of others – so why would any readers even care about how the influence of any editorialising may have the effect of manipulating them to their own detriment?

    Take football transfer non-stories, for example – how many of these are planted by agents to manipulate the market for primarily commercial ends? Does the on-off saga of a Gareth Barry or Cristiano Ronaldo make much material difference to the sporting output of any of those teams – or is the volume of hype necessary to build a market audience for the mother-company’s other products? Does the average season-ticket holding Sun reader enjoy paying extortionate above-inflationary annual increases in order to pay for the continued competitiveness of their club, are changes in quality noticable?

    Or: does David Beckham retain his place in the England football team on merit, or because the FA can’t sell out stadiums without him, the Sun sells more copies when he is on the back pages and bothe recieve higher levels of sponsorship because his visibility makes him more marketable?

    I’m pretty sure most Sun-readers have an opinion on these subjects of debate and that they know they can’t take anything written in their tabloid-of-choice as gospel, but there are always the others who benefit from exposure to contrasting viewpoints when making their own minds up.

    It is similarly advisable to take stock market gossip in broadsheets with a large pinch of salt (if we’re being scrupulously fair we ought to watch for unattribured pro-Murdoch company bias in the WSJ for example).

    Whatever you may think about whether facebook is a particular victim of rampant commercial bias, it helps nobody to take anything for granted when considering the politics of the matter.

  • This could be in breach of the new Unfair Trading Regulations. Schedule 1 (practices which are always unfair), section 11 states:

    11. Using editorial content in the media to promote a product where a trader has paid for the promotion without making that clear in the content or by images or sounds clearly identifiable by the consumer (advertorial).

    http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2008/uksi_20081277_en_5#sch1

    It’s not clear this would count as paying for the promotion, and it might be hard to prove that it amounts to advertising, but other than those hurdles it is a strict liability criminal offence to use an unfair practice.

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