Facebook Exec Hates the Internet He Helped Create

Mike Hudack is the Director of Product Managment at Facebook. He believes in the web. He also believes CNN, print newspapers, BuzzFeed, HuffPo, and Vox are terrible. "Someone should fix this shit," he laments. If he's looking for people to blame, he should start with himself.

The Facebook complaint can be read in full below, but the gist is what you've likely heard many times before: most of the news on the web today is dumbed down, listified, GIFfed, and packaged for the lowest common denominator. BuzzFeed pioneered (and perhaps mastered) the Dumb Web approach, but it's now just one bobbing chunk of driftwood in a sea of viral try-hards. Why isn't anyone writing serious, worthwhile stuff online anymore? What happened to the promise of the web? Hudack is pissed:

And so we turn to the Internet for our salvation. We could have gotten it in The Huffington Post but we didn't. We could have gotten it in BuzzFeed, but it turns out that BuzzFeed's homepage is like CNN's but only more so. Listicles of the "28 young couples you know" replace the kidnapped white girl. Same thing, different demographics.

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And we come to Ezra Klein. The great Ezra Klein of Wapo and msnbc. The man who, while a partisan, does not try to keep his own set of facts. He founded Vox. Personally I hoped that we would find a new home for serious journalism in a format that felt Internet-native and natural to people who grew up interacting with screens instead of interacting with screens from couches with bags of popcorn and a beer to keep their hands busy.

And instead they write stupid stories about how you should wash your jeans instead of freezing them. To be fair their top headline right now is "How a bill made it through the worst Congress ever." Which is better than "you can't clean your jeans by freezing them."

Yes, Vox has so far been a sprawling web resource for people who just got lobotomies, or those who recently woke from comas. But as The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal points out in a comment to Hudack's post, if the web is getting to be a place for simpleminded children, it's because Facebook rewards us for being that way. Sites like BuzzFeed owe their massive viral success to Facebook's secret news feed algorithm, which rewards certain kinds of (highly shareable) posts over others by being prominently featured and shared on an enormous scale across the social network. Virtually every single media property, from The New York Times to Gawker, plays the Facebook game every single day—if your stories can't get traction on the single largest digital distribution platform in the history of civilization, you're at a financial disadvantage compared to your competitors. This simply just is the way people find articles today: there's no way around it. You have to adapt. Facebook is in control, more than anyone cares to admit.

All we can do is take our best guess at what will "do well" on Facebook each day. We often look at our peers and competitors. We cross our fingers. Everyone in the business of blogging, or reporting, or whatever you want to call all of this, would love to talk with Facebook. They are an impenetrable monolith with an agenda that is silent, leering, and invisible. The truth is, we all know more about how fucking PRISM works than Facebook's news algorithms.

Facebook Exec Hates the Internet He Helped Create

This leads to, sure, a lot of trivial, lighthearted bullshit all over the internet, because people like clicking trivial, lighthearted bullshit. Facebook knows they like clicking this, and so it makes sure every time we open Facebook, there's a steaming buffet of trivial, lighthearted bullshit to click on. Around and around and around we all go.

Long, thoughtful, good writing often does not do as well as Jimmy Kimmel videos, lists, and quizzes. The "important stuff" generally doesn't "go viral" unless it's a fucking natural disaster, terrorist attack, or political implosion. This is by Facebook's own design. Facebook is supposed to be fun. Facebook is supposed to pass the time. Facebook is supposed to be a nexus of good vibes. You don't go to Facebook for investigative journalism or Congressional Budget Office reports. You go for photos of your sister's babies and stories about a stranger's baby who impossibly overcame cancer—and look at this monkey riding a pig!

This set of wretched priorities is a direct result of the products that Facebook creates and implements for its 1.28 billion users around the world. This makes, in a very real way, Facebook's Mike Hudack partially responsible for the exact problems he is whining about on Facebook right now. If there's anything more frightening than the fact that Upworthy pulls in more readers than most serious newsgathering organizations of any variety, it's that people as cosmically oblivious as Mike Hudack are the ones in charge of this ever-spinning cyber engine.

Mike: you guys did this.

Read his post below:

Please allow me to rant for a moment about the state of the media.

It's well known that CNN has gone from the network of Bernie Shaw, John Holliman, and Peter Arnett reporting live from Baghdad in 1991 to the network of kidnapped white girls. Our nation's newspapers have, with the exception of The New York Times, Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal been almost entirely hollowed out. They are ghosts in a shell.

Evening newscasts are jokes, and copycat television newsmagazines have turned into tabloids — "OK" rather than Time. 60 Minutes lives on, suffering only the occasional scandal. More young Americans get their news from The Daily Show than from Brokaw's replacement. Can you even name Brokaw's replacement? I don't think I can.

Meet the Press has become a joke since David Gregory took over. We'll probably never get another Tim Russert. And of course Fox News andmsnbc care more about telling their viewers what they want to hear than informing the national conversation in any meaningful way.

And so we turn to the Internet for our salvation. We could have gotten it in The Huffington Post but we didn't. We could have gotten it in BuzzFeed, but it turns out that BuzzFeed's homepage is like CNN's but only more so. Listicles of the "28 young couples you know" replace the kidnapped white girl. Same thing, different demographics.

We kind of get it from VICE. In between the salacious articles about Atlanta strip clubs we get the occasional real reporting from North Korea or Donetsk. We celebrate these acts of journalistic bravery specifically because they are today so rare. VICE is so gonzo that it's willing to do real journalism in actually dangerous areas! VICE is the savior of news!

And we come to Ezra Klein. The great Ezra Klein of Wapo and msnbc. The man who, while a partisan, does not try to keep his own set of facts. He founded Vox. Personally I hoped that we would find a new home for serious journalism in a format that felt Internet-native and natural to people who grew up interacting with screens instead of interacting with screens from couches with bags of popcorn and a beer to keep their hands busy.

And instead they write stupid stories about how you should wash your jeans instead of freezing them. To be fair their top headline right now is "How a bill made it through the worst Congress ever." Which is better than "you can't clean your jeans by freezing them."

The jeans story is their most read story today. Followed by "What microsoft doesn't get about tablets" and "Is '17 People' really the best West Wing episode?"

It's hard to tell who's to blame. But someone should fix this shit.

Photo of Mike Hudack via Facebook