June 18, 2018 at 02:33PM
via Business Insider
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- The Onion has launched a campaign against Facebook, even announcing its own spoof social network.
- In an interview with Business Insider, the satirical news site's editor-in-chief said Facebook is throttling its traffic and should consider paying publishers who use the platform.
- The Onion isn't pulling any punches — even joking that Mark Zuckerberg's wife has left him for the CEO of "Onion Social."
The Onion has declared war on Facebook — and now it's getting personal.
Over the past few days, the satirical news site has published a barrage of articles mocking the social network, culminating with the announcement on Monday of "Onion Social," a new spoof social network that promises users "access to unfettered information, unparalleled reportage, and unmatched connectivity to friends and family without regard to the consequences."
In an interview with Business Insider, The Onion's editor-in-chief Chad Nackers said the anti-Facebook campaign has been prompted by how the company has throttled the traffic it sends to The Onion and other publishers in attempts to make them pay for ads.
"We've developed a big audience. That audience is hanging out on Facebook looking at things and it seems like we should be able to reach them," Nackers said. "It seems like [Facebook is] taking another thing away from us by saying 'well you can't reach the people who follow your page unless you spend money.'" (Scroll down for the full interview.)
"You wouldn't expect HBO to just give all their programs for free to a cable network. There would be some kind of carriage fee or something," Nackers said.
And he said that Facebook's efforts to clamp down on "fake news" may be hurting parody sites like The Onion, though Facebook responded that that's not the case.
"I can't prove that that has happened, but I feel that since 2016, since post-election, it has felt like ... Anyone can report that this is 'fake news,' and unfortunately that's what people do," Nackers told Business Insider.
No punches are being pulled in The Onion's assault on Facebook
The Onion has published more than a dozen articles about Facebook since Thursday — and it's not pulling any punches. One of the first poked fun of the 34-year-old CEO: Mark Zuckerberg Insists Anyone With Same Skewed Values And Unrelenting Thirst For Power Could Have Made Same Mistakes. A particularly dark op-ed pretended to be Mark Zuckerberg's baby daughter, telling him: "Daddy, I Don't Want To Live In The World Your Website Has Created."
The "child" wrote:
"Come on, Daddy. The whole thing is so completely obvious. All you and your website do is hurt people. I mean, really, what you did to journalism alone! You created a platform that cripples publishers and severely limits the reach of their content. Facebook made it so hardly anyone can afford to pay reporters anymore. And it made people stop trusting the news. Don’t you understand how essential a free press is to preserving our democracy? Don’t you know anything about the Constitution?
"Christ, Daddy, didn’t you go to Harvard?"
And on Monday, after the announcement of Onion Social, Zuckerberg's wife Priscilla Chan appeared in the firing line: Priscilla Chan Leaves Mark Zuckerberg For Onion Social CEO. "I finally woke up to the lie I’ve been living—Mark just isn’t enough for me," she is quoted as saying. "He can’t satisfy me intellectually or physically, and the second I saw Onion Social, I knew I had to be with whoever created that ingenious, pioneering site."
People who try and sign up for Onion Social, once they navigate the labyrinthine questionnaire ("What is the first name of the person you lost your virginity to?" "Where were you on the night of the murder?"), are invariably rejected. Nackers was coy about whether the company had actually built a functioning social network — it seems unlikely — but teased further developments in the story over the days ahead.
"We'll see what happens. I'm assuming the FBI will shut it down in a few days, probably," he said.
It's an elaborate joke — months in the making, he said — but with a serious point. The editor called on Facebook to let publishers reach their audiences without paying, and even to consider paying publishers for posting content to the site.
He also questioned whether Facebook's "fake news" crackdown has hurt The Onion's traffic, and suggested a (real) replacement for Facebook might soon be necessary.
"I understand private companies have a right to do things, but then it makes me think there needs to be a new private company that's better than Facebook," he said. "I feel that ultimately it could come down to something like that because that seems where we're headed at this point. They don't seem to want to budge."
In a statement, Facebook spokesperson Adam Isserlis said: "We announced ranking updates this winter to show people more posts from their friends and family. This means we’ll show less public content in News Feed and pages could see their referral traffic decline. But we’re also working to make sure the Page posts people do see are high quality. We’ve found that people don’t report satirical content as false news because they know it’s intended to be humorous. Generally, satire, including The Onion, should not be impacted by our work to reduce false news."
Read the full interview below. The transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
BUSINESS INSIDER: So why are you doing this? What prompted this wave of stories?
CHAD NACKERS: Facebook changes their algorithm repeatedly and so it decreases the number of people who are seeing our content, and I think we’re not super happy about that. Just because we provide a steady stream of content for Facebook, 24 hours a day. At this point they're just getting our stuff for free, building their traffic so their ad networks are firing and they're selling stuff, and we're not getting much benefit from it.
It's kind of ludicrous. You wouldn't expect HBO to just give all their programs for free to a cable network. There would be some kind of carriage fee or something. So there's certainly a frustration. I think there's times where it's been better but in the last three or four years, I feel like the algorithm has played against us. I don't know if satire has also played a role in some of that.
Are you angry about the broader algorithm changes, or do you feel like you've also been penalised in the last few months by the changes Facebook has been making to crack down on so-called fake news?
I can't prove that that has happened, but I feel that since 2016, since post-election, it has felt like ... Anyone can report that this is "fake news," and unfortunately that's what people do. I think people who are unaware of what The Onion is, or what is the point that's being made — especially if they disagree with that point — then they label it "fake news."
We've come full circle here, where people didn't understand what satire was before, and now they don't understand it on a different level.
Have you seen a drop-off in traffic from Facebook since 2016?
Yeah, Facebook is not as reliable for us, so we've tried to get other traffic sources, things like that. But it's hard because everyone has a fake news thing, and I think places are afraid of comedy too, like we don't have an Apple News thing.
There's a narrowing of venues to get your content seen, basically, and I think that maybe a larger thing is people have been conditioned in how they use the internet. Now people just scroll past things, and it's important to visit websites. You have to go to the-onion-dot-com and look at the content because things like clicking likes or sharing articles doesn't help us.
So why have you done this now? Did the Cambridge Analytica scandal play a part in it?
The thing is we've been working on stuff for a few months, so what comes out now is not necessarily based on something Facebook just did this week. We were already developing these ideas at the end of the 2017. I think that's when we felt things had been decreasing on Facebook and it just felt like it wasn't as worthwhile. There's times when you think you can game the Facebook algorithm by "oh, if we put up content at this time or we wait before we put our a different thing or wait to re-promote it it'll have a different effect." But I feel like some of that stuff has kind of disappeared and just feels like they're like: 'If you want your content to be seen you need to pay us more money.'
It's kind of a partnership — we've developed a big audience. That audience is hanging out on Facebook looking at things and it seems like we should be able to reach them. It seems like they're taking another thing away from us by saying "well you can't reach the people who follow your page unless you spend money."
What kind of response would you like to see from Facebook? What changes are you after in an ideal world?
I think we just want access to the people we follow, and the algorithm not cutting us off so it's getting to like 10% of the people at any time. I've had people say "oh you guys never publish anything," because they don't see stuff in their feeds.
I understand private companies have a right to do things, but then it makes me thing there needs to be a new private company that's better than Facebook. I feel that ultimately it could come down to something like that because that seems where we're headed at this point. They don't seem to want to budge.
I think all their data mining has been a huge blemish on what they've done and there's a lot of privacy concerns, and it has sidestepped what they've done to publishers over the last few years. This is not just The Onion, it's every media company. They encourage you to do Instant Articles, and keep you on Facebook and do videos that are playing on Facebook. Then they just turn that spigot of your content reaching people — they turn it down, it feels like, every few months it gets tightened a little bit.
Let's talk about Onion Social. What are you trying to achieve with this, and should we expect to see more along these lines beyond what's come out today?
Yes. Onion Social is our solution to this problem, of creating a place where the content, whatever you post, it's uncensored, it's not suppressed. You can go on there and share with the other 12 billion users. Social media has slowly cracked down more and more on people, and it doesn't matter where you fall politically. They are the overlords who decide who sees what. Onion Social is a place where that's not gonna be happening.
Have you built an actual social network? I took the entry quiz and was rejected.
Well, you have to keep trying, and maybe better yourself so maybe one day you can become accepted. We have all sorts, you can take the tour to see the various influencers we have on the site.
So is it real?
I guess, you know, if the people come then it is a social network, right? We'll see what happens. I'm assuming the FBI will shut it down in a few days, probably.
Have you talked to Facebook about these issues — especially after this barrage of posts?
We're in contact with them, I think we get the same story. They're very secretive about their algorithm, and they don't really reveal a whole lot. But we haven't talked to them since this barrage of content so it'll be interesting to see if they want to re-open talks about this.
They're kind of blaming publishers for their troubles, I think. And those problems are they got a little greedy about data mining and that's the core of that issue rather than "publishers tricked people."
If you want to know the anger about things, with our staff. Russia bought $200,000 in ads — a fairly insignificant amount of money — but they had a lot of power from it and exploited the network, and that's very frustrating that they would sell out the country for so little. We would expect them to sell out for much more money, at least.
In one of the recent stories, you use Mark Zuckerberg's baby daughter to attack him. It was clearly written in a way that made Mark Zuckerberg, rather than his child, the butt of the joke — but is there anything related to Mark Zuckerberg or Facebook that would be beyond the pale? How do you make sure your jokes are punching the right way?
I think we try to punch up, and I think using a child is a powerful way to create emotion and show how terrible some of the stuff is. If you go through the filter of the innocent baby, it definitely changes how it all plays out. I think we have to try to keep our limits because there's a point. You don't want to go down a path where it's getting into something that's too loaded of a topic, it just doesn't seem fair to anyone.
So we try to punch where it hurts, but not go too far as "this is just not even related to anything," that's where we stick to. But they're gut punches. We're not going light on them.
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