So Facebook distributes fake news? Well, what a surprise

There seems to be a groundswell of surprise and disappointment at the realization that Facebook’s approach to newsfeed creation means that a lot of what is now being defined as “fake news” is appearing on Facebook news feeds.
None of this should be a surprise to anybody who has even a superficial understanding of Facebook’s business model.
There seems to be an implied expectation that many people suddenly have about Facebook that Facebook can and should screen newsfeeds for some combination of truth and usefulness.
This Is Not Going To Happen. (emphasis mine).
You can see how Facebook operates by looking at their process (such as it is) for dealing with people posting racist, eliminationist or hateful content on their own pages.
Facebook is deeply reluctant to intervene. I have reported Facebook pages containing clear threats to the safety of the POTUS in the past. Facebook’s bland canned-email response to me in both cases was that the postings did not violate their content guidelines. Facebook rarely suspends users for any reason.
People who have any expectation that Facebook is going to snap into action and begin to validate news feeds and articles are, sadly, going to be disappointed.
There is a very important underlying reason for this.
Facebook is positioned as a common carrier, in large part so that they can never be held liable for content that they host. That is a fundamental barrier to them becoming a media company. In order to be a credible media company, they would have to apply due diligence to content from external entities that they accept onto their platform. That is not part of their business model. The entire Facebook model is based on gaining as many free users as possible, since traffic equal advert revenue and data that can be sold to analysis companies. Screening out poor quality content or removing bad actors will negatively impact their user base, reducing their revenues.
On a broader front, the enmeshing of Facebook in the media world will not necessary improve it’s ability to provide useful content about the world. As this article shows, the tendency of media outlets to be dominated by information of questionable truth and usefulness is a wider trend, aided by the democratization of information dissemination. The Internet has driven the cost of publication down to almost zero, and dissemination location is irrelevant. All you need to do is generate content and promote it virally, and you can soon make money. Whether the content is useful is largely irrelevant, as long as you can activate the confirmation bias of the consumers.
In the medium term, Facebook, like all free platforms in social media, is doomed. It will decline and wither because of what i term UseNet Syndrome. This is the tendency of any online, free, unmoderated social media platform, over time, to become dominated by a combination of spam and utter morons. Facebook will not be immune. I use Facebook right now because it (just about) makes sense as a communication vehicle. It makes no sense as a discussion and learning tool, except for private groups, which is where I spend most of my time. The signal to noise ratio is becoming steadily worse. So, at some point, just like UseNet, I will leave.
In the meantime, I will continue to ignore all Facebook news feeds. You can find the same content using other methods. Anybody who relies on Facebook for their news feeds and worldview deserves to be poorly informed about the world.


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