Last week I dedicated this entire column space to spanking and impaling Facebook for the latest changes that the social media behemoth has made to its algorithm. As a reminder, chief developers announced, among other things, that news feeds will be “showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation,” which means we’ll see “less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.”
I was hardly alone in complaining. Countless critics from the journalism space have spoken out about the devastating impact this abusive relationship has had on both newsmakers and readers, particularly since Facebook spent a lot of time last year explaining how it hoped to help the public cut through bullshit and fake news. I had front row seats for the hoodwinking; last October, I sat in an audience of hundreds of small and independent publishers at an industry conference in Chicago, where Facebook journalism helpers explained all the ways the platform was helping such outlets connect with their audiences. I’m sure that some of their tips remain useful, and I don’t believe that they knew back then that the plug would be pulled on the overall strategy to link people with factual info. Nevertheless, this algorithmic sea change has been even worse than I imagined.
As an editor, I do my best to see the world from the consumer’s point of view. Which has been an awfully depressing perspective for this past week since, and I’m really not exaggerating, my Facebook wall has become absolutely unrecognizable. While articles from hard news outlets I rely on and frequently read have disappeared almost entirely, I am suddenly bombarded with short video snippets and happy-go-lucky poppycock. A quick flip through my feed while reporting this column cruelly exposed me to: an individual who calls herself the Truth Bomb Mom who had a moment with her 10-year-old that “she’ll never forget”; sappy clips galore from the likes of Humankind Stories and Love Stories; paid ad upon paid ad; pro-charter school propaganda from something called Hall Pass; nostalgia-mongering from a pandering outlet called Who Remembers?; an installment of 60 Second Docs about how to make your own bath bombs; and right-wing vitriol from something called Here’s the Deal, which no semi-competent computer should ever mistake for something that I wish to view.
There is also Rick Lax, a web celeb who I had never heard of until last week. Up until that point, I had been finding lots of articles on Facebook about #MeToo, including many that proved extremely helpful in following the movement’s ongoing developments. Those have since been replaced with pranks by Lax and his sophomoric friends, whose offensive and hacktacular antics, such as “Stopping Short with Girl in Car” and “How To Get Rid of a One-Night Stand,” are to Jackass what mumble rap is to Wu-Tang.
I usually say to each their own. But since my feed is filled with garbage that I never indicated wanting to see in the first place, I figured that I was within my right to gripe.
UPDATE: Since this went to print earlier this week, Facebook has made yet another relevant announcement. It’s promising, but I’ll reserve my judgment on this apparent correction for a few months from now, when we can examine what actually happened. Here’s the update from Nieman Lab:
Whiplash alert: Facebook will give local news sources a signal boost in the News Feed, the company announced Monday afternoon. The change will be reflected in the U.S. first, and Facebook is hoping to roll this out to other countries later this year. These efforts are ostensibly intended to respond to a growing chorus of concern that Facebook is contributing to social malaise, deep societal polarization, and around the world, the destabilization of democratic institutions.