Opinion: How Facebook Helped Create And Grow The Fake News And Clickbait Ecosystem

Written by Jamarlin Martin

Facebook recently developed policies and a public relations narrative that it is determined to kill clickbait.

The narrative suggests that Facebook is the good guy. It goes stomping out the “bad actors” in the digital media ecosystem — the websites that load up their pages with ads and come up with headlines that are optimized to generate the most clicks.

“People tell us they don’t like stories that are misleading, sensational or spammy,” wrote Facebook engineers Arun Babu, Annie Liu, and Jordan Zhang in a May 17 Facebook blog.

BuzzFeed, the mother of clickbait

Apparently, people like these stories a lot.

Facebook has generated billions of dollars in revenue from ads that would technically fall into this category. Most publishers would agree that BuzzFeed is the mother of clickbait and has “most favored nations” status with Facebook executives.

BuzzFeed is a big client of Facebook. Facebook supported BuzzFeed’s clickbait operation for years while taking in untold millions of dollars of revenue. Facebook has given Buzzfeed millions of dollars to produce more content. Facebook also gave BuzzFeed early access to new marketing features, effectively giving the clickbait operation an advantage over high-quality publishers.

Marc Andreessen, co-founder and partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and a long-time Facebook board member, is a close ally of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. Andreessen announced in 2014 that he had invested $50 million in BuzzFeed, something many see as a conflict of interest.

BuzzFeed has consistently received early access to new tools from Facebook to grow their business — tools that high-quality, non-clickbait publishers never received. By Facebook backing their client BuzzFeed so heavily, Facebook indirectly influenced the birth and growth of other publishers who copied BuzzFeed’s clickbait business model. Now that Buzzfeed has reached scale with its preferred Facebook relationship and very good clickbait techniques, it is jumping off the clickbait train, just like Facebook.

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