Journalism has been the bane of Facebook from day one. Now, bogged down with fake news and public scrutiny, it’s becoming clear that Facebook will gradually pull the plug on news. Publishers should stop their petulant whining and move on.
Let’s face it, publishers have been screwed by Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg has made no effort in concealing the fact he values shareholders over customers, so his latest move should come as no surprise. On Thursday, Facebook stated publicly that news posts will appear much further down in everyone’s newsfeed, in order to favor posts from friends, family and Facebook groups. Here is how Zuck defended the move:
“The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being. We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos — even if they’re entertaining or informative — may not be as good. Based on this, we’re making a major change to how we build Facebook. I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.”
Consider us notified. Facebook is done with journalism. They prefer cat memes and feelgoodery. It will happen, slowly, gradually, but the trend is here. In this context, the email sent yesterday by Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships, who states “news remains a top priority for us,” rings unapologetically hollow.
Facebook hasn’t educated its users, its given them an intellectual alibi. “I read it on Facebook” is the term echoed by millions of lethargic Americans. These same Americans may accidentally stumble into a voter booth near you in November. You’ll recognize them by their look of forced optimism, a #MeToo shirt and a vacant, hollow stare that perfectly complements their vacant, hollow rhetoric.
Second, the notion of accountability has vanished. Almost nobody has a clue who wrote what. Gradually, the two pillars of the relationship between the media and its customers eroded, before crumbling altogether. Facebook has demolished journalistic integrity.
On Friday, Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s newsfeed chief, said to Wired:
“There will also be more group content. Group content tends to inspire a lot of conversation. Communities on Facebook are becoming increasingly active and vibrant.”
This vision will backfire terribly: an increase in the weight and reach of Facebook groups means reinforcement of Facebook’s worst features — cognitive bubbles — where users become lost in hyper-partisan echo chambers, fueled by vitriol and misinformation.