Last month, Funny or Die laid off another round of employees, and Matt Klinman, one of the site's writers, thinks Facebook is to blame. “There is simply no money in making comedy online anymore,” Klinman wrote in a Twitter thread mere hours after the layoffs were announced. “Facebook has completely destroyed independent digital comedy and we need to fucking talk about it.”
Splitsider followed up with Klinman in an interview where he describes how Facebook has inserted itself between publishers and their audience.
“The whole story is basically that Facebook gets so much traffic that they started convincing publishers to post things on Facebook,” Klinman told Splitsider. “For a long time, that was fine. People posted things on Facebook, then you would click those links and go to their websites. But then, gradually, Facebook started exerting more and more control of what was being seen, to the point that they, not our website, essentially became the main publishers of everyone’s content.” Klinman attributes the lack of attention on Funny or Die videos to the fact that Funny or Die has to pay to connect them with any audience at all. “Not only is the website not getting ad revenue they used to get, they have to pay Facebook to push it out to their own subscribers,” Klinman told Splitsider.
Few people go to individual site homepages anymore (like phone numbers, their distinct urls are slowly but surely being forgotten). Most get their news from a series of algorithmically curated feeds. Reddit, Facebook, Twitter. They feed us content that they know we’ll probably want to engage with (whether that’s by upvoting, retweeting, sharing, or liking) but that doesn’t mean that it’s content we actually want. Or content that’s good.
Klinman imagines media organizations banding together to take down the influence of Facebook. “The other solution, which seems crazy, is for there to be a meta organizing campaign, where media companies band together and refuse to post on Facebook, essentially going on strike and withholding their labor until they are compensated. These media companies need leverage against this massive entity that is eating their lunch. That’s the labor problem.”
“Someone can make something really good, and just because of some weird algorithmic reasons, or if it’s not designed specifically for Facebook, it doesn’t do well.”
“We’re used to a world where if you put something out there that’s good, people see it and share it,” Klinman told Splitsider. “But that’s just not true in this world. Someone can make something really good, and just because of some weird algorithmic reasons, or if it’s not designed specifically for Facebook, it doesn’t do well. And then it becomes impossible to know what a good thing to make is anymore.”
Whether you believe Funny or Die was (and/or still is) making “really good” content, it’s indisputable that it at one point had a highly engaged audience on Facebook and a very high profile otherwise, and now it does not. On any other platform, a huge slump in traffic like this would be easier to understand and somewhat more manageable. But the publishing world’s Facebook addiction has left it ill-prepared for reality. Quick hits and hand-delivered audiences don’t exist outside of the carefully crafted bubbles of social media networks, and once they pop they’re not coming back.