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Facebook is not for news

Where are you reading these words right now? It could be your phone, your tablet, a laptop or desktop computer. Or even in print.

Where are you reading these words right now?

It could be your phone, your tablet, a laptop or desktop computer. Or even in print. You might have gotten here from a link on Twitter, or from an emailed newsletter, or you just found it yourself on our website.

One place you absolutely didn’t get here from was Facebook.

That’s because last fall, Meta’s turned off the taps on all news links on its platforms in Canada, including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

They did that in response to the federal government’s Online News Act, which required companies like Meta to compensate publishers for making money off news content.

You can make the argument that Meta shouldn’t have to pay for the decision of publishers to lean heavily on its platforms to reach readers – although you would also have to admit that Facebook did a lot of encouragement of both publishers and readers to use it as a news source.

You can also acknowledge that Meta has the right to pull news from its feed rather than be forced to pay – it’s not great corporate citizenship, but it’s within their rights.

But what if dollars and cents weren’t the only reason that Facebook would block content?

Just ask the folks at the Kansas Reflector. They ran an opinion piece from a local documentary maker who found his posts to Facebook about his latest work on climate change were getting deleted as overly political.

When the Reflector posted that opinion piece to Facebook, they suddenly found that they couldn’t post any links from their site to Facebook – and that all of their past links were gone as well.

When confronted about this, Facebook communications person Andy Stone said on Twitter (!) that links to the Reflector were blocked “due to a security error.”

I suspect the “security error” was some algorithm which saw any link back to the original documentary as an attempt to get around the initial block. In the process, it cut off an entire news ecosystem from Facebook.

And that highlights the really big, really scary problem here. It isn’t that someone at Facebook is making judgements and turning off the taps for publishers based on stuff the company doesn’t like. The problem is that it’s happening automatically.

Facebook is too big for anyone to control, including Facebook itself – and the tools it’s having to use to try to keep things in some semblance of order have big, serious unintended consequences.

The pen is mightier than the sword, but Meta, by comparison, is an atomic bomb – and the trigger is apparently set to go off automatically.

What’s the solution?

For us lowly humans, I think it’s simple: remember that Facebook isn’t for news. It’s for cat pictures. It’s for recipes. It’s for arguing with family members and with total strangers about news.

But it’s not where you find news – at least, it shouldn’t be.

News is now something you need to seek out.

That’s going to be a hard habit to break, because social media spent a long time convincing people that news was something that would come to them.

And we bear some responsibility for that as well. We trusted that they believed in the value of news like we did.

We were wrong. Now we know better.

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