The Facebook Newsfeed is the Tabloid of our Generation

It’s worth mentioning at the start of this that I have a great deal of respect for FB. They’ve built something incredible, this isn’t a rant against them—this is about Peter Thiel. And, more specifically, a special blend of smugness that wafts through the valley that makes my head implode.

Peter Thiel wants to destroy Gawker because he says they’ve built a business on the humiliation of others. Gossip, bullying, stalking — you can make arguments that they have. But the things Peter Thiel says he hates about Gawker are the things that built Facebook, and make it Facebook.

Let’s take a quick glance, at what it’s loading today in my feed.

Gossip

Bullying

Sex

Stalking

Looks like we have 7 mutuals Peter!


The FB Newsfeed is a tabloid on a scale we have never seen before. Few think of it this way because its a masterful slight of hand. If FB can convince you that they’re neutral and you’re in control, then you’re the pervert. You’re the one sitting in the dark, scrolling through 50 pictures of your high school ex. You’re the one refreshing your news feed like its a slot machine. It’s not Facebook, it’s you. You’re the one gawking.

But we know that’s not true. We know algorithms are written by humans. We know that the core thing FB wants is more of your time, and we know they will go to some dark places to do so.

But again, this is not an existential judgement about Facebook. If Facebook were to shut down, someone would make a similar website and it would be very popular.

What I’m sick of is the Silicon Valley sanctimony. The assumption that the ad money Facebook makes is clean while Gawker’s is dirty. It’s dirty for both, and both, occasionally, use that money to do good work.

Amusingly, in the past few years, Gawker and FB have taken steps to be more like the other. Gawker has invested, heavily, in its platform and launched a way for people to post to the site without editor approval. Facebook has been hiring human news editors!

It’s a tiny one, a lone blip on Facebook’s radar, but Gawker is competitive with a handful of FB’s products (Newsfeed, Notes). The companies started at a similar time and each surprised the naysayers with an ad model that brought in real revenue. It’s worth mentioning that Denton did not raise VC money, they built this from scratch. Gizmodo.com was first in 2002.

I was a big fan of Thiel and was floored by the news. But even more shocked by the response from startup friends and people in SV.

The Facebook newsfeed and the Gawker platform (kinja) have more in common than maybe, either, would like to admit. They both sell ads next to gossip, sex, and sometimes, news. For a member of Facebook’s board, to secretly attempt to destroy Gawker by funding lawsuits, is revolting.

This might all be legal. That’s not my expertise. But ethically? Ethically, this is the thing that makes me want to hurl my MacBook at the nearest Tesla.

I hope. I really hope, that this is news to Mark Zuckerberg. That he didn’t know about this. And I hope that there are people at Facebook who believe FB is better than this.

If Zuck has the guts, he will release Peter Thiel from the Facebook board.