Facebook backs off on the View from Nowhere

Today Facebook released a document it calls: News Feed Values. It's a start on beginning to define some editorial priorities.

29 Jun 2016 10:16 am 5 Comments

Even a start — and that’s all this is — is news, though. Because for a long time Facebook wouldn’t even say it had priorities. It would describe you as the editor of News Feed: you, rather than Facebook.

It would say things like: “It’s not that we control NewsFeed, you control NewsFeed by what you tell us that you’re interested in.” (2015) Or: “We try to explicitly view ourselves as not editors. We don’t want to have editorial judgment over the content that’s in your feed.” (2014)

Here’s what I said back to Facebook about this habit of theirs:

Facebook has to start recognizing that our questions are real— not error messages. We are not suggesting that it “edits” NewsFeed in the same way that a newspaper editor once edited the front page. It’s a very different way. That’s why we’re asking about it! We are not suggesting that algorithms work in the same way that elites deciding what’s news once operated. It’s a different way. That’s why we’re asking about it! No one is being simple-minded here and demanding that Facebook describe editorial criteria it clearly does not have— like reaching for a nice mix of foreign and domestic news. We get it…

But precisely because we do “get it” — at least at a basic level — we want to know: what are you optimizing for, along with user interest? How do you see your role within a news ecosystem where you are more and more the dominant player? In news, you have power now. It is growing. Help us understand how you intend to use it. What kind of filter will you be? What kind of player… playing for what?

The document released today is not a revelation, but it does say a few interesting things. Here is my summary of News Feed’s editorial philosophy:

Your social graph comes first, not the public world. Informing you is a higher priority than entertaining you. But we think “information” comes in many forms, not just serious news. A good recipe for beer can chicken is information to the person who is looking for it. We don’t exclude points of view we don’t like, or favor the sources we do like. We let the invisible hand of user choice make those decisions. Except: We do try to edit out what people find misleading, sensational, spammy— mere click bait. We do police nudity, hate speech, personal abuse, and violent or overly graphic content. Above all, we design News Feed to keep people on our platform because—

Actually the last part isn’t in there. I added that. To me it’s the obvious thing missing from this attempt to state the values that are built into News Feed. No one should expect Facebook to be a traffic distributor because that is not a priority the company has for its product. Again, this is obvious but as long as they’re trying to clarify what they stand for they should clarify that.

One more thing Facebook says in the value statement it released today: its committed to the personalization of News Feed as a kind of right that users have. “You control your experience.” I will be worth watching how this rights revolution in news display unfolds.

Now that they’re publicly committed to certain values the next thing Facebook needs is a public editor to synthesize complaints and get answers when the company falls short. It also needs to iterate on today’s statement as often as it revises the algorithm for News Feed.


Publishers are churning out and refraining from using Instant Articles as revenues of publishers shows a steep dip. So facebook is purposefully reducing the link reach of google publishers so that google publishers earn less or same as they would earn from using fb instant articles. And eventually facebook wants that publishers should leave google and migrate to instant article and become facebook publishers.

Why else would facebook work so hard to launch a product like Instant Article and see majority of publishers not using it.

Facebook would say time on site would increase, page views would increase it will have better experience but the truth from which they are running away is. Publishers survive on revenues and they have employees to pay salary. Facebook should not run away from answering direct questions.

Facebook just want mo ey from publisher. Actually facebook wants us to spend all in advertising .

I’m afraid cognitive-dissonance-aversion will rule our future. Simple: Don’t think so much.

Facebook cannot be weighed for using methods that keep it viable. The industry and henceforth the community that fb fosters suffers. But does the falling tree make a sound?

I feel like you’re missing something in your summary–namely, a radical shift in the definition of something like “important information” or even “news.” At one point, it seems like there was a category of information that was not only viewed as important, but it was also not dependent on the individual consuming the information. That is, some elite institution (like the press or critics) would make decisions about this, and individuals would accept that this information was important and had value.

FB’s philosophy seems to be to replace those elites with the individual consumer and their friends. Therefore, what is now “important” or “noteworthy” information will largely be decided by the individual and his/her friends.

Maybe this is obvious, but I think it’s worth mentioning. I find this to continued movement in this direction to be troubling, leading to greater insularity and making really important information almost irrelevant to many people

I have heard people say “I trust the Google News Aggregator because it gives me *every* side”.

These are the folks who describe themselves as “independent” or “persuadable” but latch on to every right-wing polemic that comes down the pike.