There’s an old joke - I don’t even know if it qualifies as a joke - about the idea that people claim to read Playboy for the articles. A new Pew study finds that we’re using Facebook for news, but we don’t admit it to ourselves.
Pew asked people what they use Facebook for, and they found that news was near the bottom of the list -- 16% of respondents said that that’s why they go on. And yet, Pew also found that nearly 80% of Americans end up getting news there. It’s not why we show up, but it ends up happening incidentally.
This actually matters! Because if you judge Facebook as an editorial platform, it sucks. They censor material haphazardly. Their algorithm is built to show people what they like, not what they disagree with. Content gets featured or buried partly based on how much the content creator paid to promote their work.
But none of these failures bother people, because they don’t think of Facebook as a news source. It's the elevator TV of the internet. If I post a TLDR post on Facebook, and you read it, you don't necessarily think of it as Facebook post, per se. But for a lot of news organizations, Facebook and Twitter are becoming de facto front pages.
I don’t know that there’s a fix for this necessarily. News outlets depend on Facebook to get their stories out, but Facebook doesn’t depend on those articles. So as a news consumer, maybe it’s just something to keep in the back of your mind. The next time you read an article about Facebook’s umpteenth censorship flap, it's worth remembering that they actually do influence which stories you end up seeing.