Facebook has hired Liz Spayd, the former New York Times public editor who was so bad at her job the company eliminated her position entirely. Some of Spayd’s highlights at the Times include aiding the alt-right in a disengenuous attack led by date rape truther Mike Cernovich on one of the Times’ own reporters, complaining that the Sports section writes too many interesting stories, and advocating for not calling lies, well, lies.
Spayd’s job as public editor was ostensibly to listen to feedback from readers and to be a sort of watchdog for the paper. Her predecessor, Margaret Sullivan, was particularly good at this, as she tracked the Times's use of anonymous sources and called out the paper for cutting its environmental coverage. Spayd, on the other hand, would frequently give in to the idiocy and the worst impulses of Times readers. Now Facebook has hired Spayd to aid the company in its so-called transparency efforts. It’s a match made in heaven! Recode reports:
A Facebook spokesperson said that her job would be to help expand early moves to chronicle what it does related to everything from terrorism to fake news to privacy. Her charge is basically to move the company out of its comfort zone in disclosing how it works internally.
Here’s an idea: Facebook, the company that is obsessed with secrecy, doesn’t actually want to be transparent, it just wants a better messenger. Someone like Liz Spayd, a down the middle straight shooter with no actual opinions is, in Facebook’s eyes, immune from partisan criticism and can help the company push its well-crafted messaging. One of the defining characteristics of Spayd’s tenure at the Times was her complete inability to grasp how social media works, which is probably even more reason Facebook was interested in hiring her.
This is just like when Facebook hired Campbell Brown, a journalist formerly at CNN and NBC who now spends her free time campaigning for charter schools and against teachers unions, to, as the Times put it, “help smooth over its strained ties to the news media.” Since being hired at Facebook, we haven’t heard much from Brown, outside of the media coverage Facebook received for hiring her. There’s nothing to indicate she is anything but a highly paid consultant, and that’s because Facebook doesn’t actually want to fix the problems they hire media people for, they just want people to think Facebook is working hard on it.
Facebook is a company that holds meetings where employees clap and cheer when CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces rooting out and firing an employee for leaking to the press. Right after the election, Zuckerberg tried to bury the brewing fake news scandal, before deciding that Facebook needed to ramp up efforts to combat the problem he originally said didn’t exist. Facebook told its users the trending module was “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook” when it was actually curated and monitored by a team of contractors in a basement. There are many reasons not to trust Facebook, and Facebook’s own product surveys show that people would fear buying a Facebook device because it might spy on them. So much of what Facebook does is kept under wraps, and the only information the company usually release is tightly controlled and given to sympathetic news outlets.
Recode reports that Spayd’s job will be to act as an outsider, and to push Facebook out of its boundaries. We saw how well that went at the Times. If she were to be successful in her job, the world would see just how powerful and terrifying the company truly is. Liz Spayd won’t make Facebook any more transparent, and that’s exactly what the company wants.