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A Social Cancer, Facebook Weeds Out Its Own Bad Seeds

01/15/2018 - 11h11

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ROBERTO DIAS
MANAGING EDITOR

Facebook has often been labeled "the black hole of the Internet." A surrounded environment, expanding continuously, invisible to those outside it.

The hole has become enormous. And as it expanded - it became clearer - a social cancer also grew.

It grew so much that Facebook decided to weed out its own bad seeds. And that is what the announcement made on Thursday, January 11, by Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is all about.

Each user's feed will now favor content promoted by his friends rather than sponsored pages - such as channels of communication.

The new format was explained by Zuckerberg himself: "I want to be clear: By making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down." And the value of the company's stocks declined by nearly 5%.

It is a defensive move. Facebook became the main source of information to many people and the resulting responsibility proved to be too heavy a burden for it to carry. As it did not create efficient mechanisms to distinguish journalism from lying advertisement, Facebook had become a problem to democracy.

The so-called fake news involves politics and dirty money. That means putting Donald Trump in the White House. It takes executives to parliamentary committees of investigation. It attracts police officers, prosecutors and judges. It is understandable that Facebook wanted to avoid all that bad reputation.

The question was how it could do it.

Facebook's actions against fake news were always very far from the key targets that could solve the problem: the financial and technical engines driving the lies. Because dealing with these two points would mean changing a model that made Facebook a company that earns over US$ 30 billion - and who would want that?

Facebook's actions regarding these issues recently did not lead to big changes, despite making the spotlights. It used little flags to indicate questionable articles, it promoted courses in the importance of journalism and announcements showing dangerous areas.

The social network is now moving away from journalism. This action will certainly lead to casualties. Many media sources depend on Facebook almost completely to reach their audiences. In some countries the entire ecosystem of journalism could be affected.

In the words of Zuckerberg himself – but last year's Zuckerberg: "A strong news industry is also critical to building an informed community. Giving people a voice is not enough without having people dedicated to uncovering new information and analyzing it. There is more we must do to support the news industry to make sure this vital social function is sustainable."

This masquerade ended after the most recent announcement. This year's Zuckerberg says that reading news "has often been only a passive experience." At this moment, he wants "meaningful social interactions."

This a conception that involves a ruler over journalism, as noted by Joshua Benton, the director of Nieman Lab, a study center on the media: "The idea that the value of a piece of news is defined by the comments it receives - that taking in information without getting into a back-and-forth with your uncle about it is somehow unworthy - is actually a profoundly ideological statement."

In this way - and paradoxically - a possible immediate effect is that the fake news will actually gain ground as it becomes relatively more visible in people's newsfeeds. It is much easier to interact with a fun lie about Congressman Bolsonaro than to find an article scrutinizing his assets. It is very likely that we will see more narrow-minded arguments crossing our way.

In Zuckerberg's black hole there seems to be no room for good journalism. In the short term, it is certainly very bad news to many journalists. Looking further ahead, however, this might mean very good news to society. It is never good to have such a powerful player in such an important area like journalism.

Translated by THOMAS MUELLO

Read the article in the original language

AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File
The Facebook logo is displayed on an iPad in Philadelphia
The Facebook logo is displayed on an iPad in Philadelphia

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