The Inlander has never pinned its business or readership to Facebook — we're fortunate to enjoy the highest market penetration of any urban weekly in America — but we thought it was important to explain to our readers how the social media behemoth was deprioritizing actual news stories in its so-called News Feed.
That was the subject of staff reporter Daniel Walters's cover story "Feed Frenzy," first published in these pages on Feb. 8. In the weeks since, his in-depth report has been reprinted in 15 other newspapers around the country, including the Boulder Weekly, Orlando Weekly, Salt Lake City Weekly, Creative Loafing Tampa, Cleveland Scene, Detroit Metro Times, Nuvo in Indianapolis and Gambit in New Orleans. Other outlets have said they also plan to publish the Inlander article in the coming days.
Facebook, meanwhile, continues to find itself the object of scrutiny. On Feb. 16, the U.S. Department of Justice announced charges against 13 Russians who, investigators said, turned to Facebook as the tool of choice to disrupt the 2016 election, sowing discord and spreading propaganda.
The real problem of "fake news" — fabricated stories purposefully made to deceive and manipulate unwitting readers — has dogged the social network, and struggling to fight it, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced plans in January to decrease the reach of all news (real and fake) in favor of more posts from family and friends.
As Walters explains in his report: "Facebook's new algorithm threatens to make existing fake news problems even worse. ... By focusing on friends and family, it could strengthen the filter bubble even further. Rewarding 'engagement' can just as easily incentivize the worst aspects of the internet."
Still, Walters notes, there are those who believe a breakup between Facebook and news organizations could be a good thing. Then, maybe, news outlets might spend less time chasing after clickbait stories and more time fulfilling their watchdog role as the Fourth Estate.
And, Walters writes, "maybe, the hope goes, readers would start seeking out newspapers directly again." ♦
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— JACOB H. FRIES