Facebook Is the "Mainstream Media" Now [Content Made Simple]

Issue #197: Also, Trumplicans are headed to Parler. Will it stick? Likely not.


The line between “social media” and “traditional media” is blurring, and may be evaporating completely.



The distinction between social media and media is becoming obsolete.

  • Let’s start with what isn’t new. First of all, it isn’t new that Fox News is the country’s top-rated cable news channel — it has been for 18 years — so any definition of the mainstream media that doesn’t include Fox News is incomplete at best. Conservative radio is also a familiar standby for right-leaning Americans, and has long hammered home the message that the mainstream media can’t be trusted — a message that dovetailed neatly with Trump’s rhetoric. Then there is local TV news, which is increasingly dominated in markets across the country by the Trump-friendly Sinclair Broadcast Group. We’ve long known that TV news is a leading source for older Americans especially, who were also more likely to vote Trump. What might be surprising is that TV news has thrived amid the pandemic, while the newspaper business has been devastated.


This is a tremendous article in which Will Oremus examines the ever-evaporating line between “mainstream media” and “social media.” The content that fills the timelines of hundreds of millions of social media users every day is largely populated by content from mainstream media outlets. Lots to think about in this article.


Episode #26: Recap of the Election and Social Media and the Next Billion Internet Users

We spend time tying a bow on how social media platforms handled the election (quite well!) and we talk about an episode of the 99% Invisible podcast that highlights how Google is providing tech and internet to the developing world.


Link #1: Conservatives Lead Mass Exodus to Parler…Again

One of my friends pointed out this weekend that a lot of Trump supporters were renouncing the major social media platforms on which they have built massive influence and scurrying over to Parler. This happened in the summer, too, after Twitter labeled Trump’s tweet about looting and shooting. It won’t stick. Let me explain why.

Vocal, combative Trump supporters need mainstream social media platforms in order to have any influence at all.

If all of the Trump supporters who believe Facebook and Twitter are censoring their content left those platforms and set up shop at Parler, they would quickly realize they made a HUGE mistake. Why? Because there is no one on Parler but people who agree with them!

Vocal, combative Trump supporters like Bongino and others have a parasitic relationship with conflict. Bongino and other firebrands like him need enemies to fight or they lose their most potent content. When all of these vocal Trump supporters concerned about censorship realize that the only thing they can do on Parler is sing Kumbaya with other Trump supporters, they will quickly get bored and leech back onto the platforms they hate. Why? Because they can’t live without them.

Link #2: On Election Day, Facebook and Twitter Did Better By Making Their Products Worse

As we talked about on Social Qs this week, Facebook and Twitter both handled the 2020 election far better than they did the 2016 election. What is ironic is that in order to do that, they had to break their platforms and take away tools that make content spread quickly. In effect, these platforms admitted that their tools are designed to spread content, including false or dangerous content, quickly.

For months, nearly every step these companies have taken to safeguard the election has involved slowing down, shutting off or otherwise hampering core parts of their products — in effect, defending democracy by making their apps worse.

They added friction to processes, like political ad-buying, that had previously been smooth and seamless. They brought in human experts to root out extremist groups and manually intervened to slow the spread of sketchy stories. They overrode their own algorithms to insert information from trusted experts into users’ feeds. And as results came in, they relied on the calls made by news organizations like The Associated Press, rather than trusting that their systems would naturally bring the truth to the surface.

Link #3: The Social Media Managers Are Not OK

I can’t remember the last time I identified with an article so profoundly as I did this one. Much of what is explained in this article is what drove me out of the role I held at LifeWay.

The 37-year-old social strategist often felt depressed and misunderstood by upper management, who didn’t fully understand how much time, effort, and stress social media work entails — and how toxic it can be for those who perform it every day, for hours and hours. “They don’t know what it’s like to live in that Twitter feed… to live in the comments section and to be able to see a populace that is agitated, that feels hopeless, that feels angry, that feels powerless,” she says. “It has turned to a point where we are either crying into the void or we’re yelling at it.”

In the relentless news cycle of 2020, social media managers are first responders. At a time when many are feeling social media’s impact on mental health and the burnout of working through a pandemic, they are under immense pressure to stay online, be always on call, respond quickly and not make mistakes. In some cases they are on the verge of psychological collapse. Yet the importance of their work is still often invisible and undermined.


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