How is it possible that some of the country’s top tech journalists are just now hearing about this story???
As anyone who is the administrator of a fan page can tell you, Facebook has pushed one of the most shamefully immoral, extortionist—yet curiously, even stupidly transparent—business models in the history of modern capitalism on its billions of users, and no, that is not an overstatement. Due not only to the size of Facebook’s user base and market cap, but the company’s monolithic influence on how information is distributed—and just how sleazy it all is once you understand what’s really going on—that’s actually a fairly neutral statement of fact.
One of the very first articles to be written about Facebook’s controversial promoted posts scheme was “Broken on Purpose: Why Getting It Wrong Pays More Than Getting It Right,” a New York Observer piece penned by Ryan Holiday, a public relations strategist and the author of Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. Before practically anyone else, back in September of last year, Holiday laid bare how Facebook was deliberately preventing “fans” or subscribers from seeing updates (as much as 85% of them!) so they could then turn around and charge an exorbitant fee for what used to be free. If bands, church groups, dog shelters and charities actually wanted to reach 100% of the subscribers they worked hard to collect, they still could, but for a high price.
Wasn’t that nice of Facebook? Talk about a of conflict of interest!
What’s even more preposterous is how the matter has been written about in the mainstream and tech media. As someone who had my own part to play in the way the story spread (see “FACEBOOK I WANT MY FRIENDS BACK”) I’ve followed this closely and frankly the way this scandal has been reported on, for the most part, has just been fucking idiotic. The worst offender is TechCrunch’s Josh Constine, a guy who seems to take anything Facebook’s PR flacks have to say at face value and prints it as if it’s “news” (here’s a good example of his “reporting”: “Killing Rumors With Facts: No, Facebook Didn’t Decrease Page Feed Reach To Sell More Promoted Posts.” Did he even bother to email me? That would be a no... And do make sure to read the first very withering comment).
But as I was saying, it just got downright annoying to watch how totally wrong most of the tech media covering the Facebook promoted posts scandal got it—for that’s what it is, an actual scandal, the type of thing the DoJ should be looking into.
Returning to the topic this morning in another Observer post, Ryan Holiday vents his frustration with seeing how the digerati are picking up on the story six months late and how—unbelievably—they’re still not getting it right:
But only now, when Nick Bilton at the New York Times experienced it himself, did the phenomenon suddenly hit the top of Techmeme.
Some of the tweets from Bilton’s colleagues are pretty amazing: “I dunno, I kind of feel like we knew this was coming eventually,” writes Anthony De Rosa, a Reuters columnist and social media editor.
Indeed! We knew it because it already happened.
Felix Salmon, also of Reuters, tweeted back to Bilton at the Times, “Insofar as it applies only to fans/subscribers rather than actual friends, surely not a big deal.”
Except that’s not true either. In October, TechCrunch revealed that Facebook was expanding the program so that users needed (or could choose, depending on your interpretation) to pay $7 to extend the reach about “important announcements” like weddings, garage sales or parties.
As Holiday points out, and he’s dead right about this: THE reason—the ONLY reason, I think—that Facebook gets away with this greedhead bullshit is due to the extremely pertinent fact that most tech writers simply DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY ARE DOING.
Does Facebook have a ‘right’ to operate this way–to throttle access and charge unequally for passage? As a for-profit company, they absolutely do. It’s just bafflingly shortsighted–and borderline unethical–to anyone who really thinks about it for two seconds.
I’m just starting to realize that most tech media have neglected to do that.
And THAT is why Facebook has gotten away with this appalling bait-and-switch. That’s how they’ve been boldly able to (and remain) broken on purpose.
HINT TO TECH JOURNALISTS: Figure out how EdgeRank works. THAT is a major, major component of the story that seems to be eluding most of you…
Previously on Dangerous Minds
FACEBOOK: I WANT MY FRIENDS BACK