I am delighted that Facebook is cutting back on its news feed

by on January 13, 2018 at 12:47 pm in Current Affairs, Uncategorized, Web/Tech | Permalink

A few points:

1. Facebook can now claim it is truly addressing the problems (way exaggerated in my opinion) associated with the 2016 election.  This looks decisive, and the company can present it as a turning point.

2. In essence, they are blaming the media, without having to throw the stones themselves.  Americans respond positively to attacks on the media, so this is a strong public relations move.  Facebook retains the option of blaming the media more explicitly for its previous troubles, if need be.

3. The news feed can always be reintroduced under another name or guise.  Two years from now, the entire dialogue about the major web companies is likely to be different, one way or another.

4. I do understand this may devastate some marginal media outlets, and in fact many media outlets are marginal these days in economic terms.  Still, in the longer run I prefer a scenario where other web sites try to compete with Facebook rather than being co-opted by it and dependent on it.

5. Does this mean more ads will turn up on Instagram, chat apps, Facebook Messenger, and other Facebook services?

There is also this angle (NYT, speculative):

Facebook’s pulling back from the news — which necessarily depends on conflict — and elevation of homier material may bolster the company’s attempt to enter China, where it has been met with stiff resistance.

“Facebook is just desperate to get into China, and it will never do that unless it censors news — and this is actually a neat solution to that,” Mr. Weisberg, the Slate chairman, said. “If you only have news on the platform shared by users, users who live under repressive regimes don’t have access to real news and can’t share it, because it’s legally prohibited.”

I’m not entirely happy about this last factor, but I also don’t see how it is better for China for Facebook to remain permanently outside the country.  And if the desire to enter China makes Facebook in some way worse for Americans, that is a potential problem, but I don’t see how this move makes the overall media environment worse for Americans.

1 Matthew Young January 13, 2018 at 12:51 pm

Futures are way down in the fake news industry. My own client list is dwindling, I might lose the Putin contract.

2 Matthew Young January 13, 2018 at 12:54 pm

Go long kitten videos.

3 clockwork_prior January 13, 2018 at 1:10 pm

Clearly, I missed the NYT memo that news ‘necessarily depends on conflict.’

It seems as if calculated risk, with its devotion to simply reporting data in the main, missed it too.

4 Transnational Pants Machine January 13, 2018 at 1:21 pm

>the problems (way exaggerated in my opinion) associated with the 2016 election.

You don’t say.

Gee, I wonder who would lie about things like that, and why?

5 Anonymous January 13, 2018 at 4:32 pm

You say gee, I will say gosh.

Gosh, why would anyone think anything went wrong with Americans’ rational deliberation in the presidential election on 2016?

6 Dick the Butcher January 13, 2018 at 6:03 pm

Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.

There is nothing new under the Sun. In 1861, Americans also refused to abide with a peaceful change in presidential administrations when 13 southern states seceded and fought a cataclysmic civil war.

7 A Copperhead January 13, 2018 at 6:19 pm

The Democratic Party shall rise again! Sic semper tyrannis!

8 Jag Bhalla January 13, 2018 at 1:54 pm

Zuckerberg’s power has no precedent, he makes a decision, flips a switch —>instantly the way 2 billion people consume news is changed (basically without their consent).
See also @fmanjoo NYT on Facebook’s cookie profit logic.
Which challenges basic free market ideas
What Free Market Lovers Are Often Blind To
PS Plato on Cookies vs Salad & definition of rational = not choosing like a child

9 Viking January 13, 2018 at 5:44 pm

“Zuckerberg’s power has no precedent, he makes a decision, flips a switch —>instantly the way 2 billion people consume news is changed (basically without their consent).”

I had facebook for a few years, but then, around 2010 I noticed that my feed of updates from my “friends” was filtered, something seemed off, by inspecting the walls of my facebookfriends (FFs), I could tell that I only received a randomly selected subset. That was one of the nails in the coffins. Another was their obscene practice of converting an outside facebook URL to an inside facebook URL within facebook messages. I thought we had graduated from AOL 10-5 years prior!

Anybody who puts up with these obscene behaviors deserve every deception they get. Totally self inflicted!!!

10 Partridge January 13, 2018 at 2:01 pm

Again, Americans must grovel like dogs before China. Now, I know what i iving in a Third World Country.

11 Richard Head January 13, 2018 at 8:19 pm

You are certainly spelling like you’re in one.

12 JosieB January 15, 2018 at 11:26 am

Actually, it’s a thing in the movie industry, which is obsessed with mass distribution. A potential audience of 1 billion, even in a dodgy political state not congenial to robust discussion, is not ignored and has a subtle but real effect on subject matter, themes and cultural perspectives. Call it self-censorship.

13 Borjigid January 13, 2018 at 2:05 pm

Agreed, I think this was the right move on several levels.

14 Hazel Meade January 13, 2018 at 2:15 pm

The whole idea of Facebook feeding you “news” from anyone other than people you’ve explicitly friended is a terrible idea. There’s enough crap cluttering up my feed (not that I’ve checked it recently) without Facebook adding in a bunch of other garbage just because they think I might click on it.

15 Slocum January 13, 2018 at 3:14 pm

“There’s enough crap cluttering up my feed (not that I’ve checked it recently)”

And….I think THAT’S what they’re trying to address — the growing “haven’t checked it recently”/ “haven’t posted anything recently” problems:


16 rayward January 13, 2018 at 2:36 pm

Are people in China inundated with propaganda the way people are in the U.S.? One might have the impression that China has some things to learn from Facebook (not the other way around). Indeed, China might have a few things to learn from the libertarian Peter Thiel about spying on people in China. It’s all so confusing.

17 Brian January 13, 2018 at 2:41 pm

Facebook is a douchebag business model, I’m surprised you stick up for it! The basic premise is: you use our monopoly platform (which by the way – and we don’t tell you this – is low friction, high addiction) for free, and we tell other people precisely what type of marketing or political message you’ll respond to because we know you better than your Mama knows you! Contractually that’s fine: morally it’s the equivalent of getting an Indian chief to sign away his tribal lands for a bottle of whiskey, not knowing the value of what he has. When Facebook came looking for us back in 2006 and we all signed up to Doucheberg’s crackfeed, we did not know the value of our data identity. Now we do and we want it back! Facebook is the modern equivalent of Cecil Rhodes, and like him, #Facebookmustfall.

18 dearieme January 13, 2018 at 3:32 pm

Seems a bit hard on Rhodes. Facebook/Zuckerburg were backers of Hillary, were they not, a grade one destroy-the-world warmonger. Rhodes was small beer by comparison. And Rhodes gave money to charity rather than using a fake charity to loot the world.

19 Willi January 13, 2018 at 3:44 pm

In this vein: https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2018/01/12/birdcage-liners/

“Rather than providing a constant stream of satisfying news and engagement with friends, Facebook’s algorithm had learned to give me a bunch of junk I didn’t need to hear, and only gave me intermittent rewards through the occasional useful nugget of information about friends. Once in a blue moon I would hear [something I actually care about]”

Joel Spolsky is the co-founder of Stack Overflow.

20 ChrisA January 14, 2018 at 12:58 am

I don’t use Facebook, but your hyperbole doesn’t match the facts. Facebook remains one of many possible social network sites, so there is no monopoly. And it is not hard to be a member of all sites simultaneously, so there is no possible way Facebook can control competitors. Fact is that Facebook is extraordinarily successful because it provides a great service to its user.

21 Mark Thorson January 13, 2018 at 4:04 pm

Facebook is for old people. Everyubody knows that.


22 ChrisA January 14, 2018 at 1:05 am

I think you have to be older than 13 to use Facebook, so quite likely High School students don’t use it much because many of their friends are not on it. Also Facebook seems to be best for people with a wide circle of family and friends that are not geographically co-located, which again is not High School Students.

But longer term I would agree that Facebook will be supplanted as a social media site by younger folks by something better. For those that have been on it a while the library of personal content will keep them there but that demographic will gradually age away.

23 Anonymous January 14, 2018 at 7:02 am

>I think you have to be older than 13 to use Facebook, so quite likely High School students don’t use it much because many of their friends are not on it.
If their friends wanted to be on it, they would be. It is not unthinkable that one would lie about their age on the Internet.

24 Anonymous January 13, 2018 at 4:29 pm

This is a surprising solution, but I too approve. It is better if news goes to people looking for it, and in a mind to receive it.

Now let’s do away with those cable tv shows which masquerade as news. The ones with home and away team arguments, and opposing sometimes-real but often-fake facts shouted a mile a minute. Those are not really helping the marginal voter figure out what is going on.

Newspapers. On paper or on the web, for the win.

25 TMC January 13, 2018 at 5:07 pm

One of the reasons Fox news get some of my very little TV watching time is that the news is the news and the opinion side is the opinion side. You watch Hannity or Oreilly in his day then you know it was all opinion. Go to MSNBC or CNN and it’s all wrapped up into one package.

26 Anonymous January 13, 2018 at 5:43 pm

I cut the cable, and after a year it is really a shock seeing any of them. Fifteen minute updates trying to disguise that there isn’t anything new, or authentic “news.”

But you know, maybe somebody got excited, raised their voice, live, on tv.

27 HazelMeade January 13, 2018 at 10:41 pm

Agree. I haven’t had cable since I can’t even remember when, probably the late 90s/early 2000s. I remember stumbling across cable in a hotel once and finding CNN resembling a tabloid to an unsettling degree.

Back in 1990 my Dad made this comment that “every time there is nothing to talk about, the news media covers itself”. Which is true. Half the time the media doing commentary about whether the media is covering the news properly or not.

28 Transnational Pants Machine January 13, 2018 at 11:49 pm


29 albatross January 14, 2018 at 11:03 am

When your business depends on there being breaking news or a burning controversy all the time, you invent breaking news or controversies. That’s basically the pathology of cable news

30 ChrisA January 14, 2018 at 1:07 am

I am surprised anyone but a moron watches those things, five minutes watching tells you all you need to know, that this a poor way to spend your leisure time, you are better off going to a bar and listening to the opinions there, at least there you can join the discussion and they are probably better informed.

31 Anonymous January 14, 2018 at 8:49 am

And yet the President, for 6 hours a day.

32 Anonymous January 14, 2018 at 9:26 am

The tight little feedback loop is amazing.


Why talk to anyone at the Fed, or at NBER, or at a top economic school, when you have Stuart Varney?

33 Troll Me January 14, 2018 at 8:49 am

Unbiased news here!

It’s the truth!

Unbiased news here!

It’s the truth!

Unbiased news here!

34 Anonymous (2) January 13, 2018 at 7:56 pm

Shut it down!

35 Andrew January 13, 2018 at 4:30 pm

It’s hard to really say what these changes will mean before we actually see them.

I think I’ve seen a lot of interesting content that I never would have found on the web without Facebook. While the bubble problem is real, websites haven’t really done a good job of curation. Unless you’re a destination site most of them have doen a very poor job from being in an environment where information is relatively scarce to one in which information is overly plentiful and consumers need someone to filter it beforehand.

I don’t even use it for “news” in the traditional sense much but I love it for fluffier content like fashion, videogames or gif recipes that I wouldn’t necessarily seek out but are great for passive consumption.

36 Severian January 13, 2018 at 4:38 pm

I think this is clearly the right move for them. Given their reach there is no way they can act as a curator for news that won’t be ind up angering a lot of people, including their users and people with regulatory jurisdiction over their activities. A company like Facebook really needs to look blandly non-ideological. Best for them to wash their hands of the whole thing, and concentrate on the banal sort of evil that has gotten them where they are today.

37 Al January 13, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Seems like am overreaction to the fabricated “fake news” issue. The stock market agrees that this was an inept move by Zuck.

However, if it does open up China then this could be a great play for them.

38 Troll Me January 14, 2018 at 8:46 am

In the era of electromagnetic neuroweapons and machine learning applied to psychological profiling …

Yeah, I’m sure China’s in a real big rush to get it’s people onto (US database centred) Facebook. At any price …

39 Jan January 13, 2018 at 5:11 pm

After the first three or so years Facebook became tiresome and I deleted my account. I know I am in the minority here, but it seems to be such a monumental waste of time and isn’t even very entertaining (unlike reading the comments on this blog).

40 derek January 13, 2018 at 6:18 pm

You are not alone. I used it to connect with family, and stopped using it when other ‘content’ showed up. It ceased being useful to me.

Speaking of a flood of trash showing up, the last couple iterations in my Google Pixel has been interesting. It is my work phone, full of already too much stuff to handle. There was an update and a useless news feed showed up on the browser and where I could check the weather and traffic. I was ready to break it and throw it out the window. I managed to turn most of it off, then another update and it seemed to be much quieter. Google gave me a reason to be angry at them, and I doubt I was the only one.

41 Jeff R January 13, 2018 at 6:35 pm

Yep, same here. Haven’t used Facebook in a long time; don’t miss it.

42 Severian January 13, 2018 at 9:16 pm

I suspended mine a little over a year ago. The truth is that I’m actually quite a bit happier not to know what many of the people I know think about things. And, though the ship has largely sailed on this one, I don’t see why I should actively assist others in their efforts to know everything about me, at least without getting something I value in return.

43 Dain January 14, 2018 at 2:04 pm

Single people of any age kinda like it. Your virtual self still matters in that scenario. It’s also of way of figuring where to go to meet other single people.

One hasn’t yet retreated/advanced to the private kingdom of family responsibility where the presentation of self is first directed at important meatspace individuals, not strangers.

44 Pesto January 13, 2018 at 6:27 pm

“and isn’t even very entertaining (unlike reading the comments on this blog.”
Ao I am some kind of clown who amuses you.

45 Ted Craig January 13, 2018 at 8:02 pm

My cynical take is that this is a way to get more money out of people to boost their posts.

46 Merida January 14, 2018 at 2:50 am

I like my news feed on Tinder. A bit lop sided.

47 So Much For Subtlety January 14, 2018 at 6:39 am

What is remarkable about this is what Zuckerberg and Facebook have just inflicted billions of dollars worth of damage on their share price.

And there remains no evidence of Russian meddling in the election at all.

48 Troll Me January 14, 2018 at 8:42 am

What does Russian meddling in the election have to do with this?

49 Anonymous January 14, 2018 at 8:50 am

He’s just labeling his bubble, in case we are confused.

50 So Much For Subtlety January 14, 2018 at 10:16 am

Hi Nathan. Long time, no see. What have the Russians to do with it? How about the first point?

1. Facebook can now claim it is truly addressing the problems (way exaggerated in my opinion) associated with the 2016 election.

What problems with the 2016 election do you think everyone is referring to?

51 Anonymous January 14, 2018 at 10:32 am

The serious, rational, answer is that there were many problems in the 2018 presidential elections, affecting both of the major parties.

But “no meddling” is absolutely unsupportable, when Putin’s instructions to meddle, and the testimony of paid Russian meddlers are in evidence.

I won’t bother with links because anyone doing due diligence has them, or can find them, trivially.

52 So Much For Subtlety January 14, 2018 at 7:55 pm

We have gone from “the Russians hacked the voting machines and gave the election to Trump” to “The Russians did what any other slob could do and bought a trivial amount of advertising.”

That is, to all intents and purposes, to any sane mind, there was no Russian meddling.

53 Anonymous January 14, 2018 at 8:27 pm

A silly response, especially given that Russians tried many attacks both on voting machines and election officials.

There is no theory of law that failing in attempt means “no harm, no foul, no crime.”


54 Anonymous January 14, 2018 at 10:38 am

I must say, on the general topic, Tyler’s “way exaggerated” is rather dark.

He’s saying you are a bunch of public choice theory automatons, and this is what you deserve.

55 Anonymous January 14, 2018 at 10:45 am

“Geoffrey Brennan and Loren Lomasky claim that democratic policy is biased to favor “expressive interests” and neglect practical and utilitarian considerations. Brennan and Lomasky differentiate between instrumental interests (any kind of practical benefit, both monetary and non-monetary) and expressive interests (forms of expression like applause). According to Brennan and Lomasky, the voting paradox can be resolved by differentiating between expressive and instrumental interests.”

56 Christian Knapp January 14, 2018 at 11:08 am

I agree with most of your points. As far as smaller media outlets are concerned, it’s more proof of the need to diversify your content distribution: social+email+podcast+SEO+etc. is the strategy for success. Relying on 1 or 2 methods overexposes you to risks like a change in the Facebook algorithm or periodic changes in consumer technology choices.

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