Facebook is not a news outlet

There was a good piece last week from John Herrman in The New York Times Magazine about these Facebook-native outlets that have gained so much traction and popularity in the 2016 election cycle.

You’ve definitely seen these things. “Publications” like “Occupy Democrats,” or “Fed-Up Americans” rake in significant traffic and ad revenue solely by posting cheaply produced, unsourced, often wholesale-copy-and-pasted memes slamming or praising candidates. The currency is the share, and with the most popular items, advertisers’ opportunities for “impressions.”

There’s no question pages like these have a toxifying effect on news readers. Why this should come as a surprise, and why exactly we expect networks like Facebook to hue to any kind of journalistic standards is mysterious to me, though.

This has everything to do with how Facebook’s users conceive of the service. Just like there’s no expectation of privacy about one’s personal details on Facebook, there really shouldn’t be an expectation of nuanced or thoughtful political analysis or news.

This is a bad thing. There should be a better, more thoughtful news environment on Facebook just like their should be a reasonable expectation of privacy. But that’s not what we’ve signed on for. There’s no expectation of fairness, or due diligence or really any kind of good faith—maybe because those things weren’t present at the creation of the service. Nor during its rapid rise to dominating and defining the internet. Nor are they now.

Facebook, and networks like it, flatten the news cycle to a kind of formula, as evidenced in the company’s recent decision to shift some of their trending work over to bots. News is simply “what people are talking about,” a strategy mainstream, respectable publications are adapting, too. This is hardly a new conception of journalism, but it is one at its most perfectly crystalized on this particular behemoth network.