Facebook Needs to Just Stop It

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg recalled traveling across the nation listening to the common folk last year (yeah, I don’t remember that either; I must have missed his stop near us in Ohio). Along the way, he noticed “one theme people kept telling me is how much we all have in common if we can get past some of the most divisive national issues.”

Apparently, many of us told him “if we could turn down the temperature more on divisive [national] issues and instead focus on concrete local issues, then we’d all make more progress together.”

So, according to his post last week, Facebook is now pushing stories from local news publishers higher up in your feed.

“If you follow a local publisher or if someone shares a local story, it may show up higher in News Feed. We’re starting this first in the US, and our goal is to expand to more countries this year,” he explains, saying this kind of local connection will help build community and make your time on Facebook more valuable.

Valuable to whom, exactly?

Fortune’s Aaron Pressman and Adam Lashinsky get right to the point: “It can’t be easy being a clueless billionaire or the head of the company that has helped decimate the news industry’s business model without being willing to accept the responsibility of being branded a media company,” they write in Fortune’s Data Sheet.

As they note, last year Facebook decided to de-emphasize news altogether. This year, it proposes a popularity contest to determine quality.

“Now it hopes to calm criticism of its own culpability in poisoning the political well by deflecting what its users see away from national topics,” they write.

Meanwhile, large news media organizations have seen their engagement plunge, and are now looking at major pay-to-play scenarios. Many are pushing back, eschewing third-party distribution as not viable.

But as they leave, Facebook has to replace that income. What better source than the local publishers, who are finally going to have their day in the sun thanks to the newly-benevolent and socially-conscious Mr. Z?

Spoiler alert – fast forward a few months and we expect they’ll be doing their best to get ad revenue from these local publishers to continue reaching the concerned local citizenry.

Listen, I’ve said it before, and I’ll reiterate it now. Facebook is a business – it has every right to make money on its platform. But let’s drop the pretense that this is all “for our own good” and that we should be grateful for these intrusive and controlling algorithm changes.

Distribution platforms do exactly that – they distribute.  Media brands curate and edit, controlling what gets seen. If Facebook is not willing to take responsibility for the results of acting like a media platform, they need to get out of the business.