Mark Zuckerberg moved fast and broke shit, lots of shit.
He broke journalism, by radically deflating the value of the digital advertising on which the livelihood of media now depends; he broke the reading habits of his users, the lab rats in his grand experiment, by constantly manipulating them and feeding them an endless stream of dreck to jack up their “engagement” with his site; and in a way, he broke American democracy, by sitting on his hands as a foreign adversary exploited his platform and by creating the world’s most efficient vehicle for spreading political lies and agitprop. Now, with the announcement that he’s largely stripping the News Feed of news, he’s breaking his own site, too.
This radical overhaul of Facebook is a concession of defeat. At some point in Facebook’s rise—its march past the 2-billion-user mark—the realization dawned: Facebook is now the most powerful publisher in the business, the mother of all media gatekeepers. Initially, that realization dawned on everybody except apparently Facebook itself, perhaps a willed state of ignorance. The company described its product as a mere “tool,” and protested that it played no role in organizing the news that it broadcasts, as if it weren’t imposing its values on the News Feed, as if is weren’t providing a sense of hierarchy to the mass of posts it splays. That description, which trumpeted Facebook’s passivity and neutrality, could never really sustain close scrutiny. And after the election of Donald Trump, Facebook has received no end of that.