The New York Times reported in 2015 that Facebook had cast media organizations, struggling to reach consumers who flocked to social media for news, an opportunity. The opportunity was called “Instant Articles”: Facebook would host a news outlet’s content directly on its site instead of sending a user to the outside news site — because people don’t like to wait for web pages to load, according to Facebook. Media companies, including the Times, BuzzFeed, and National Geographic, signed on to test Instant Articles, working under a mysterious revenue-sharing deal. Instant Articles was a dark vision of the future: by essentially inhaling partner content and repackaging it for its own profit, Facebook, with its massive audience, could help stressed media organizations trying to find new readers.
It turns out this was not such a good idea. Today Facebook announced in a note to its “partners and the industry” that their metrics for measuring the amount of time a user spent on an Instant Article, an invaluable data point for publishers to present to advertisers, was “over-reported by 7 to 8 percent on average since August of last year.” This was due to a calculation error on Facebook’s part. (In addition to the Instant Articles error, Facebook also revealed numerous other significant errors in their metrics reporting.)
It’s not that this wasn’t already evident, but Facebook sucks incredibly hard. It so clearly doesn’t understand media, publishing, politics, human beings, human nature, and now math, and yet it knows that you are going to break up with your girlfriend and with whom you want to cheat on her. And it could easily give this information to the government, which is Donald Trump.
But I’m not here to throw tiny punches at Mark Zuckerberg’s monster. This is not only a story about Facebook posing as a benevolent dictator in the media sphere but also one about media organizations being complete idiots. Every single one of Facebook’s ideas for media has been a bad idea, and yet media has kowtowed to Facebook as if it is a divine oracle. Facebook reminds me a little bit of Donald Trump, in fact. Media organizations are Trump voters. People voted for Trump because he promised jobs; they decided to look past his racism. Media organizations gave into Facebook’s pull because it promised money and exposure, and they ignored its completed fucked-upedness. It ended up being a terrible business decision for them. I hope the same isn’t true for America, but it doesn’t look great.