27 September 2018

Wired: “Inside Facebook’s Two Years of Hell”

News outfits were spending millions to produce stories that Facebook was benefiting from, and Facebook, they felt, was giving too little back in return. Instant Articles, in particular, struck them as a Trojan horse. Publishers complained that they could make more money from stories that loaded on their own mobile web pages than on Facebook Instant. (They often did so, it turned out, in ways that short-changed advertisers, by sneaking in ads that readers were unlikely to see. Facebook didn’t let them get away with that.) Another seemingly irreconcilable difference: Outlets like Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal depended on paywalls to make money, but Instant Articles banned paywalls; Zuckerberg disapproved of them. After all, he would often ask, how exactly do walls and toll booths make the world more open and connected?

Nicholas Thompson & Fred Vogelstein

Throughout history, walls were not built primarily to keep good people in, but rather to keep bad people out. When your tear down defenses, you invite in all sorts of negative elements – and that’s precisely what’s happened (and is still happening) on Facebook. Having grown up during one of the most peaceful times in human history, in one of the places on Earth best sheltered against violence and strife, it’s no wonder Mark Zuckerberg has trouble understanding such threats.

Mark Zuckerberg as Atlas, with the World on his shoulders

Meanwhile, at Facebook, the gears churned. For the first time, insiders really began to question whether they had too much power. One employee told WIRED that, watching Zuckerberg, he was reminded of Lennie in Of Mice and Men, the farm-worker with no understanding of his own strength.

It’s sometimes amusing reading long pieces much later than they’re published. In this case, it becomes obvious that Facebook’s troubles have barely started. To name just two recent stories, a study claims Facebook use is linked to anti-refugee violence in Germany – that on top of their role spreading hate speech in Myanmar and several other countries. On the business side, just this week the co-founders of Instagram abruptly left the company after growing tensions with Facebook management. It would be interesting to see if (and how) Mark Zuckerberg manages to steer the company through this prolonged period of turmoil – for now, he doesn't seem to be doing a great job.

People like Alex Hardiman, the head of Facebook news products and an alum of The New York Times, started to recognize that Facebook had long helped to create an economic system that rewarded publishers for sensationalism, not accuracy or depth. If we just reward content based on raw clicks and engagement, we might actually see content that is increasingly sensationalist, clickbaity, polarizing, and divisive, she says. A social network that rewards only clicks, not subscriptions, is like a dating service that encourages one-night stands but not marriages.

Update: and to top it off, a massive security breach affecting an estimated 50 Million users!

Post a Comment