Hard to summarize this massive Wired cover story by Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein other than that Facebook is a terrible company run by terrible people, particularly Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. We all have a lot of reading on our hands with today’s release of Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel report, but this one is worth queuing up and setting time aside for. A few highlights:
In addition to general mendacity and capriciousness, Facebook decisions are often inept:
To define trustworthiness, the company was testing how people responded to surveys about their impressions of different publishers. To define news, the engineers pulled a classification system left over from a previous project — one that pegged the category as stories involving “politics, crime, or tragedy.”
That particular choice, which meant the algorithm would be less kind to all kinds of other news — from health and science to technology and sports — wasn’t something Facebook execs discussed with media leaders in Davos. And though it went through reviews with senior managers, not everyone at the company knew about it either. When one Facebook executive learned about it recently in a briefing with a lower- level engineer, they say they “nearly fell on the fucking floor.”
Zuckerberg was jealous of Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom:
Systrom’s glowing press coverage didn’t help. In 2014, according to someone directly involved, Zuckerberg ordered that no other executives should sit for magazine profiles without his or Sandberg’s approval. Some people involved remember this as a move to make it harder for rivals to find employees to poach; others remember it as a direct effort to contain Systrom.
At Wired, the month after an image of a bruised Zuckerberg appeared on the cover, the numbers were even more stark. One day, traffic from Facebook suddenly dropped by 90 percent, and for four weeks it stayed there. After protestations, emails, and a raised eyebrow or two about the coincidence, Facebook finally got to the bottom of it. An ad run by a liquor advertiser, targeted at Wired readers, had been mistakenly categorized as engagement bait by the platform. In response, the algorithm had let all the air out of Wired’s tires. The publication could post whatever it wanted, but few would read it. Once the error was identified, traffic soared back. It was a reminder that journalists are just sharecroppers on Facebook’s giant farm. And sometimes conditions on the farm can change without warning.
Who believes this was a coincidence? Anyone?