Zuck, you fuck. Facebook is creating a news section on its platform and - you guessed it - curating what news sources publish there. Hmm. Real weird for a company that likes to keep its hands off when it comes to protecting it’s users from disinformation.
This all comes from an email I get from Propublica - I cannot find an online version, probably because I get it because I donate to them (ETA - donate to them - much better for the world than your NYT subscription!), but I’ve put the text of it below in screenshot form as a sort of “source,” and pulled the quotes that have links. It’s all there below you want to see the whole thing. It just a letter from the editor kind of thing.
Summarized, Facebook has been working on a “today in” feature for a small segment of its users, which it plans to expand. That feature will include the news that it specifically curates for you. That’s a weird thing to do for not being a news organization, if I do say so!
Some of these news organizations have understandably been reluctant to participate, so Zuck’s sweetening the deal by paying them fucking millions of dollars to have their content on this part of the platform - including the WSJ and WaPo. That part sounds better than the reverse (sites paying to get featured), but in my mind, it also means that Facebook now has a significant financial interest in what these people produce.
As we all ponder what is to become if digital media in our current moment, I thought this was all pretty important.
Robert Thomson, CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., has a way with words. In an op-ed 2 1/2 years ago in The Wall Street Journal, one of his company’s papers, he wrote of the Facebook news feed’s “journalistic jetsam and fake flotsam,” and said Facebook and Google “have created an ecosystem that is dysfunctional and socially destructive.” Just this March, in another op-ed, he observed that, “The Facebook icon may be a thumbs-up, but content creators see it as a contentious middle finger.”
Last week, however, Thomson said Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg “has been consistently thoughtful on the subject of journalism.” And he praised Facebook for beginning “to change the terms of trade for quality journalism.” In a New Testament reference, Thomson even referred to Zuckerberg as having experienced a “digital Damascene moment,” a conversion experience.
Facebook also promises it is moving beyond the big cities to include news from its “Today In” feature in 6,000 localities in news tab. What it doesn’t tell you, though, is that “Today In” omits huge swaths of rural America and also mostly omits cities ranking just below the largest — Facebook considers these places too diffuse to qualify as “local.” So there seem to be no current plans to have anything in the new news tab from cities like Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Charlotte, North Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; Denver; El Paso, Texas; Indianapolis; Jacksonville, Florida; Las Vegas; Portland, Oregon; or San Francisco.
The new feature is already reportedly available to more than 200,000 Facebook users. That’s a lot of people, but it’s only one-tenth of 1% of Facebook users in the U.S. Again, not to worry: Over the next few years, Zuckerberg assures us, the news feed will reach 20 million or maybe even 30 million users. But that’s just 10% or maybe 15% of Facebook users. In other words, there are no plans ever to show Facebook’s news tab to 85% or 90% of its users in this country.
Since it was revealed almost three years ago that Facebook made a bunch of money as an unwitting participant in Russian efforts to interfere in our presidential election, Facebook has been battling to avoid first criticism and then the threat of regulation. One theme that has seemed to emerge is an effort at Facebook to limit the role of news — with its toxicity and polarizing effects, especially in the Trump era — on the platform altogether. First, early last year the news feed algorithm was changed to surface less news, and publishers, especially many of the newer digital entrants, took a hit from that. Now comes the news tab, which, I believe, is intended to lull and perhaps in a few cases influence many larger news outlets, while — ultimately much more importantly — ghettoizing news on Facebook altogether, displaying just a small, politically “balanced,” unrepresentative slice of it to a relatively few users. That will translate into less rather than more scrutiny for important subjects like Facebook’s own enabling of discriminatory advertising and its refusal of transparency in digital political advertising to match that long required on radio and television.