Does Facebook bury Medium content?
Only a handful of my Facebook friends see the stuff I post on Medium.
Is there a reason for that? Does Facebook management see Medium as a competing platform? Do Facebook’s curators suppress Medium content? And if so, is that against the law?
Nope. Our industry isn’t regulated the way mature industries are. That’s because our lawmakers and politicians know or care so little about us. As recently as eight years ago we had a candidate from a major political party (OK, it was Republican presidential nominee John McCain) who said, “I don’t do computers.”
We’ve been without adult supervision for so long that we take coercive policies and anticompetitive behavior for granted. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) rarely gets involved unless the transgressions are blatantly anticompetitive. The DOJ appears to take a hands-off attitude, letting our industry regulate itself.
Most of the policing gets done by the Internet outrage machine. Anytime Facebook or some other tech giant steps out of line, the Internet erupts. A barrage of angry tweets persuades the offenders to back off and behave themselves.
This wasn’t always so. Case in point: United States v. Microsoft Corp., a riveting antitrust lawsuit filed in 1998. The DOJ accused Microsoft of engaging in monopolistic and abusive business practices contrary to the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act.
Microsoft found itself on trial in the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia. David Boies represented the DOJ, subjecting senior executives to merciless cross-examination, making them tremble on the witness stand.
Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled that Microsoft had violated the nation’s antitrust laws through predatory and anticompetitive behavior, keeping ‘’an oppressive thumb on the scale of competitive fortune.’’
Legal oversight of the computer industry lapsed after that landmark case. The White House changed hands in 2001. President George Walker Bush had other preoccupations. His attorney general, John Ashcroft, busied himself with right-to-life issues.
Alberto Gonzales succeeded Ashcroft as attorney general of the United States in 2005. Gonzales, a graduate of Harvard Law School, resorted to legal sophistry to justify “enhanced interrogation techniques,” otherwise known as torture. A resourceful fellow, Gonzales also found ways to justify warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.
Then came President Obama in 2009. Wall Streeters had just reduced the economy to rubble. Eric Holder, Obama’s first attorney general, chucked the bandits under the chin and forgave them their sins.
This was living proof of what the Scythian philosopher Anacharsis is supposed to have said: Laws are like cobwebs—strong enough to hold the weak, but too weak to hold the strong.
At any rate, the Obama administration’s negligent, laissez-faire approach left the DOJ more or less comatose.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, the tech giants did as they damn pleased. True, over the years some of them have been accused of anticompetitive behavior. Like the time an antitrust lawsuit accused Apple, Google, Adobe and Intel of colluding to keep from hiring each other’s engineers. After that it was back to business as usual.
These days one rarely sees any mention of Google’s pious mantra “Don’t be evil.” This phrase was first uttered by Googlers Paul Buchheit or Amit Patel, depending on whose story you believe.
The media misinterpreted “Don’t be evil.” Journalists didn’t grasp the fact that the words originally meant “Don’t be like Microsoft.” They have long since stopped holding Google to impossibly high ethical standards. Because even the most idealistic reporters have come to terms with the reality that you can’t run a huge public company on Zen Buddhist principles.
Stuff happens. Even a cherubic company like Google needs to take the gloves off from time to time. We’ve conflated capitalism with Darwinism, and it’s a jungle out there. You can’t make an omelet without breaking heads — uh, I mean eggs. (As Ed McBain once said with tongue in cheek, pardon the cleesh.)
Most of the legal challenges to Google’s business practices are filed in Europe. In the U.S. Google gets a pass, and rightly so. It may not be the benevolent, huggable teddy bear-type company it was anymore, but Google’s heart is in the right place (being an ex-Googler, of course I’m biased). Likewise, Apple has a core of decency (here again I’m biased, having been a writer at Apple).
But Facebook is something else. Delicious rumors swirl about dodgy things Facebook does with user information. Conspiracy theories abound. Most of these rumors are false, so maybe we’re being unfair to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
But there’s something about Zuckerberg that rubs people the wrong way. Is it his grating earnestness? Could it be the hoodie, his trademark sartorial statement, that triggers a kind of primordial response in his critics? What causes the twitterverse to overreact whenever this dude introduces another harmless invasion of privacy? Why single him out that way? Whatever it is, people suspect Zuckerberg of dark motives.
Then again, is Facebook obligated to share all your posts with all your friends and friends of friends (depending on your privacy settings)? Of course not.
Read any tech company’s legal boilerplate and you’ll discover they’re aren’t obligated in any way for anything. You can distill those thickets of legalese down to three words: We’re not responsible.
We suffer from a plague of lawyers. Nerds are cautious by nature, so tech firms go to ridiculous lengths to safeguard themselves from lawsuits. To cite a famous example, Apple’s iTunes end user license agreement forbids you to use iTunes for “the development, design, manufacture or production of nuclear, missiles, or chemical or biological weapons.”
In other words, if you weaponize your favorite musical medley and use it to blow up North Korea, it’s on you, buddy. It ain’t Apple’s responsibility.
So to return to my original question: Is Facebook burying Medium content by hiding it from users? All I have is anecdotal evidence and my own experience to go on, but based on that I’d say yes. Facebook plays big brother and filters your news feed. Live with it.
I have a hunch that such issues will remain unresolved until a nerdy millennial is sworn in as her generation’s first chief justice of the Supreme Court. She’ll be someone so tech-savvy that coding will feel as natural to her as keyboarding feels to the rest of us. Her Congressional counterparts will occupy seats in the House and Senate. These legislators will encode new legal protections to replace ancient watchdog regulations that have lost their teeth and can no longer bite.
Until then keep sending your Facebook friends emails with links to your Medium posts. Because otherwise chances are they won’t see them.