With “fake news” on the rise, how do we nudge the world toward facts?
Carine Carmy
165

Something is missing from many of these write-ups, and I think it has to be brought up. Mostly because, otherwise, it goes into memory hole.

The Facebook Newsfeed was not always subject to any kind of algorithmic reordering. When it first came out, items were sorted in reverse chronological order and that was it.

Why do we have algorithms telling us what we should be paying attention to? Why do we have hungry clickfarms in Macedonia pumping out ishrill garbage content?

Quite simply, because Facebook made the conscious decision to allow advertisers — who may have no relationship to you— to inject their stories into your Newsfeed.

And ask any administrator of a Page to show you the difference between “paid” reach and “organic” reach: paid material gets orders of magnitude more exposure than material people explicitly say they want. And contrary to what Facebook presents, this is also not a matter of rising tide-lifts-all-boats, and it does come at a cost to real news organizations or other groups that operate ethically.

When paid advertisements were injected into Newsfeed, pages with organic audiences were quite clearly penalized, while those who paid for bullshit stories to go viral prospered inordinately. OWS noted it, George Takei noted it, and it’s pretty clear from the rebellion of Weird Facebook page administrators that it continues to be a problem.

(Btw, much as they protest now, Buzzfeed were pioneers of this paid-for-traffic model. Their complaint against Fake News should be taken up seriously… by their accounting department).

So no, there is no nudge to be made here. Facebook must be called out for having created what is, in effect, a pay-to-play channel — no different from what happened in the early days of rock n roll radio with payola, where deejays made setlists based on record company bribes and where the elite deejays like Alan Freed and Dick Clark themselves had perverse incentives (like getting songwriter credits on the songs they played) to feather their nests.

Personally, I put down my Facebook account like Ol’ Yeller just before the election day, feeling like the value of having an account was far outweighed by aggravation with the garbage content. That may be the sole form of resistance left to users: the public voting with their feet to GTFO.

As much as that sounds hardline I’d encourage people here to remember how (in their time) we all loved MySpace, Friendster, AOL, etc. They felt so good to use. You felt so invested in them. You had friendships that may have existed solely on there.

But they all lost their way at some point; and you do not grieve for the AOL chatroom friends you made, or for all the times Tila Tequila made you feel awesome, or for whatever Friendster did for anybody.