This is why ‘Catbook’ won’t work


Last week the chief executive of The New York Times, Mark Thompson, urged Facebook to consider removing news from the site and “just use cat videos” because, the way things are going, we’re headed towards a controlled society and not (I think Thompson would have gotto had they let him finish) a controlled cat society.

Mr Thompsonwent on to say he was “terrified” by the way Facebook appears to rank the quality, ipso facto the trustworthiness, of news outlets. “Terrified’” is a strong word to use for an executive, so I went to my newsfeed for a quick half-hour to find out how bad it was.

The first few minutes weren’t terrifying at all. A Mail & Guardian post rolled into view before any other news outlet, so well done guys. It was a Pimples video of the Zimbabwe election done using animation and bright colours, so I watched it to the end.

The second post that seemed related to news was a sponsored piece from an outlet called GetSmarter with the headline “Copy editors make authors’work shine”. It sounded like good news, so I moved on.

Third up was a New York Times post, so well done to them. The video in the post showed smoke coming from a window, so I watched it all the way through.

Trusting The New York Times, I even read the post that was all about the attempted assassination in Venezuela. I moved on.

The next news post was a curve-ball. Posted by a friend, Ben Duvall, under the word “hectic”, it was from BusinessTech with the headline, “South Africa on track to break emigration record”. Now, I don’t trust Ben. I’ve never met him and I’ve never heard of BusinessTech, which sounds like a made-up name, so I moved on.

After Ben’s pick-of-the-day, I upped my scrolling pace, stopping only to read and watch posts from the M&G, The New York Times and someone called Suki who found a stunning clip of a stingray jumping from the water straight up into the air.

After watching the video many times over, I logged off knowing there’s trouble in Venezuela, Zimbabwe has a problem with green ghosts and stingrays will probably make their debut at Sea World soon.

As far as news from Facebook goes, those are the facts. I cherry-picked them from my newsfeed knowing who to trust and who not to trust, which, considering they somehow brought a guy like Ben into my life, includes Facebook.

Why people allow Facebook to make up their minds for them is beyond me and that might be the real question here.

Maybe it’s not a case of removing news from Facebook to prevent a controlled society. Maybe it’s a case of removing people from society who can’t decide for themselves.

Best case scenario is obviously both of those things actioned at the same time. Sadly, I don’t seethat happening any time soon.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

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