Facebook, news and aggregators

Lippman
1/30/18

When Facebook started acting as the front man for legitimate news publishers I recall a lot of angst in the industry.  The NYTimes was sacrificing it’s front page portal to Facebook who would format it and place it among other news sources.  This seemed at the time like a deal with the devil:  In return for the exposure, you lost control of your publication.  Now they are taking away what they offered, throwing the publishers overboard after encouraging them forget how to swim.  It’s an all-too-familiar cast of the tail wagging the dog.  Here the channel became king when the content providers are doing all the heavy lifting of preparing the news.  As sad tale, but not unique to Facebook.  The link is more valuable than the source, and we are responsible for letting that happen.

To me the sad thing about Ethan’s article is the assumption at the start that Facebook was providing a useful service by being the forum for news.  Oil and water.  Putting credible news into a medium for gossip is the same as stacking “The Guardian” in the supermarket checkout line.

It’s interesting that you Viral folks focus on advertising as the root problem, or some fuzzy notion of corporate responsibility.  Aggregators are the problem.  Newspapers have been ad-supported for over one hundred years, since the advent of advertising in the 1880’s.  Sure, the ads are injurious to your health and welfare, but we have built up some immunity that keeps the industry alive, mutating like an infection to get past our defenses.  Ad support for media is well-established and no amount of wishing will cause it to disappear.   It is one of three models that has legs, the other two being subscription and pay-per-item.  All will survive.

With respect to corporations and social responsibility, it’s an everchanging score:  corporations:7, the public:3, but in what quarter?  When the only measure of value is money, they gain yards; when other values dominate, the score shifts a little.  what’s interesting is how good people can collectively perform evil, like the Luftwaffe.  As Ted Kennedy said, we created corporations by law, we can change those laws to reflect society’s needs.

While we once thought of the Internet as the great disintermediator, society did not cooperate.  While we once thought that transparency was the solution, society has fogged the lens.  That includes us, not just the other guys.

We are all grappling with what to do.  Ethan’s site is one way.  Our two-dimensional metric of message reliability is another.  Facebook is not inevitable nor will it last as long as the frog or even Christianity.  We can try alternatives.  As long as they are not reactions against, but are original, great steps forward, keep at it.  (Newscoin?)  We can win this, but there will be a lot of dead startups along the way.

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