Facebook doesn’t likely give a frig about journalism and cares even less for journalists. Excellent reportage may as well be Angry Birds or emoticons or some other empty calories. If Zuckerberg’s nation-state could make more money by offering absolutely no journalism, by erasing every last bit of it from the social network, it likely wouldn’t hesitate to do so. The company has absolutely no commitment to journalism, because that’s not the business Facebook is in. It’s in the money business. The company’s so-called mutually beneficial arrangement with traditional news publishers may ultimately play out like a zero-sum game.
The opening of a Gizmodo piece by Michael Nuñez about the unpleasantness of the social network’s trending-news department:
Depending on whom you ask, Facebook is either the savior or destroyer of journalism in our time. An estimated 600 million people see a news story on Facebook every week, and the social network’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has been transparent about his goal to monopolize digital news distribution. “When news is as fast as everything else on Facebook, people will naturally read a lot more news,” he said in a Q&A last year, adding that he wants Facebook Instant Articles to be the “primary news experience people have.”
Facebook’s stranglehold over the traffic pipe has pushed digital publishers into an uneasy alliance with the $350 billion behemoth, and the news business has been caught up in a jittery debate about what, precisely, the company’s intentions are. Will it swallow the business whole, or does it really just want publishers to put neat things in users’ news feeds? For its part, Facebook—which has recently begun paying publishers including Buzzfeed and the New York Times to post a quota of Facebook Live videos every week—bills its relationship with the media as a mutually beneficial landlord-tenant partnership.
But if you really want to know what Facebook thinks of journalists and their craft, all you need to do is look at what happened when the company quietly assembled some to work on its secretive “trending news” project. The results aren’t pretty: According to five former members of Facebook’s trending news team—“news curators” as they’re known internally—Zuckerberg & Co. take a downright dim view of the industry and its talent. In interviews with Gizmodo, these former curators described grueling work conditions, humiliating treatment, and a secretive, imperious culture in which they were treated as disposable outsiders. After doing a tour in Facebook’s news trenches, almost all of them came to believe that they were there not to work, but to serve as training modules for Facebook’s algorithm.•