Facebook, commercial speech, and the other kind.

I believe facebook reduces reach of businesses’ organic posts — let’s call it commercial speech — when they don’t value the speech or the speaker. Maybe there is explicit engagement-to-quantity scoring by speaker, who knows? But I am sure whatever definition they have for “value” is very thoughtful and the product of tons of quantitative analytics by smart, creative, hard-working people. Whatever the measuring-stick, if you are on the wrong side of it, organic traffic on your commercial speech will fall.

If you are a business, you will feel pressure to advertise instead. That has a coincident positive impact on fb ad revenue. As a capitalist, I am totally ok with fb judging the quality of commercial speech on it’s platform and taking action they think is good for their business. As a business that struggles to “figure fb out,” it’s painful for sure. In a cranky moment, I’ve even wondered whether fb is an exit-through-the-giftshop game every business is forced to play. My emotion and their motives aside, facebook builds and maintains vast machinery to monitor and measure, reward or penalize commercial speech on its service.

Now turn to all the other forms of speech. If organic-measuring-stick machinery exists for commercial speech, surely it can be used on any type of non-commercial organic speech (family pics, politics, news, assholes, bullies, whatever). If the quality of that speech disappoints by some measure defined by fb, the speaker could be treated the same way a fb-deemed “low quality commercial speaker” was in the example above. Could.

I wish facebook would come out and say it: “Yes we have that power and no we choose not to deploy it against non-commercial speech.” Sounds more true than denying that the power exists (not true) or that it violates fb’s core principles to ever use it (could be true but doesn’t smell like it). Facebook uses that power all the time on commercial speech.

If fb went that route, they could pair it with shining a powerful light on the posters’ reputations — Where’d they come from? Who are they? What’s their [rotten tomatoes] score? — and really help people. I wish facebook would say, “We believe in free political speech *and* we know that not all posts are equally reputable so we are gonna arm you with some key info so you can decide.” I bet many people would like to take responsibility for what they pay attention to rather than delegate that powerful choice to a machine.

See “Pen, Pricetag, Flashlight.” Medium post. Or video.


Sort of related but because I am too undisciplined to figure out how to weave these in more carefully. Here’s a list of things that I don’t think facebook executives should say on these issues:

“Profit motive has nothing to do with this.” Even if you believe it, you forfeit that argument when there’s $35 bil in cash in the bank and a 42% net income margin. (BTW, Jesus Horatio Christ.) Sorry to tell you but even this libertarian capitalist can tell you this is a loser argument. Elizabeth Warren will hate that answer, btw.

“We could never penalize certain types of speech.” See above.

“Be careful what you wish for!” This, in regard to the perception that people seek fb’s editor-pen to remove entire political POVs from the service. It sounds horribly arrogant and like we are somehow your subjects.

“If your organic posts on fb don’t get distribution, it’s your fault. Organic reach rises or falls with quality.” Unless you are willing to acknowledge that “quality” is judged by a human-created measurement system and that your customers reserve the right to hold a different opinion on the definition of quality or the weight of variables behind the measure, it’s hard to make anyone believe you are listening to them or have a real conversation.

“If a post takes off like a rocket organically, don’t blame us. Organic reach rises or falls with quality.” Same as above.

“That isn’t how we do [x]. You don’t know how we do it. I do know.” OK. Pause to consider that there is no reason why your customers or audience (aka People of Earth) would know how you do what you do unless you explain it clearly and publicly. Also don’t invoke your trade secret methods as defense against customer criticism unless you are prepared to share those methods. This feels like a losing strategy for getting people to trust you or make them feel heard. BTW, I know how that sounds. I used to think it didn’t matter that people feel heard if they were wrong. But it does.

“That word you used to describe something technical. That’s the wrong word. It’s not correct at all.” See above.


Also, just tonally facebook. You won. You got your wildest heart’s desire to come true. The whole Earth is yours. Every word that comes out of your mouths has that as context. Please speak to people with a voice of understanding, empathy, and care. You will find an ugly truth of American Capitalism otherwise — our system loves to tear down winners who come off like assholes. That wind at your back can blow the other direction too.

Happy Monday! What a time to be alive! Thank you for reading this.

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