How Facebook tried to block distribution of a blockbuster story

June 25, 2018
Category: Newsletters

Why Reveal won't play ball with FB's attempt to brand it 'political'

Last week, Reveal’s Aura Bogado and Matt Smith posted a blockbuster story. The piece, about a treatment center housing migrant children accused of coercing them to take powerful psychiatric drugs, was destined for a broad audience, particularly with the debate about President Trump’s family separation policy.

So Reveal’s Byard Duncan thought he could spend $150 to promote the story to a wider group of the 170,000 readers that Reveal helped create on Facebook — but which Facebook has limited its access to. The promotion of the story was important as the administration planned a vast expansion of these migrant centers and internment camps.

Facebook said no.

It said Duncan had to register, or authenticate, for what was termed — and labeled — a political ad.

Political ad? That seemed to be a fundamental mischaracterization — and mislabeling — of what independent, nonpartisan investigative news organizations like Reveal, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, do, Duncan said in an interview.

Reveal was just one of the latest news outlets to run up against Facebook’s dysfunctional and inconsistent new policy. Newspapers such as the FT have stopped advertising on Facebook, and seven major news organizations have protested.

A Facebook rep reached out and said accessing was easy, but Duncan wasn’t going to jump through hoops to mis-classify Reveal as a political or advocacy organization for Facebook’s audience — and its odd definition of journalism.

“At this point, I decided to put it out there,” he said. And by that, he meant:

Gizmodo and Mashable wrote about the incident, and ProPublica, which has also written about this and even is tracking FB’s political ads, supported it on social media.

The Reveal piece did well on traffic without the Facebook push, Duncan said.

On this later tweet, Duncan linked to a NYT article about other stories and events mistakenly classified as political by Facebook.

 “I don’t have any plan to register in the way they intend to make me register,” Duncan said of Facebook access. “We’re a nonprofit, not as dependent on ad revenue on a steady stream of clicks.”

Newsletters are a big part of Reveal and CIR's future, Duncan said, akin to what The Onion’s editor-in-chief mentioned to me last week. They’re fun, Duncan says, and unmediated — meaning there’s not a platform that can interfere with your message to a reader.

Quick hits

SMART MOVE: Hit the paywall on an out-of-town news site? The San Francisco Chronicle will let you read three more articles — if you sign up for the morning newsletter. It’s an experiment, but reflective of the industry-wide desire to build an unmediated audience, and studies show that newsletter readers are more highly engaged and more liable to subscribe.

WHAT’S UP, WASHINGTON DUDES?: A study of 2,292 journalists who are credentialed to cover the U.S. Congress finds these men retweet male journalists two-thirds of the time, whereas the women only retweet women 40 percent of the time, writes Vox’s Laura McGann. The sample was 57 percent male, and 43 percent female and counted journalists who had public twitter feeds and represented English-language publications, including a few British publications.

IT GETS WORSE: Of the top 25 journalists followed by this sample, only 4 are women. “Women operate at a disadvantage,” says Nikki Usher, who co-authored the study as an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University. “The power to control the dialogue is still in the hands of men.” Usher, who begins teaching at the University of Illinois this fall, says everything from time spent tweeting and number of original tweets to the harsh treatment of women on Twitter enter into the equation, as well as astounding percentages of same-sex replies (91.5 percent of men’s replies are to men; 72 percent of women’s replies are to women).

DISCOVERED: How did a group of Central American kids become “unaccompanied minors?” The United States broke up the families by deporting the parents, the Texas Tribune reported. One member of Congress touring a detention center on Saturday, Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, also said he has been struck how few female minors observers have been able to see. “We know that there are enough [minor females detained] to where we should be seeing more of them, and they can't give us a full accounting," he said. "And that's very disturbing."

REALLY BREAKING UP FAMILIES: Reps. Castro and Beto O’Rourke of Texas also said ICE appears to be using information from detained migrants to go after longtime U.S. residents and likely sponsors for the kids. “For ICE I have to believe that means enforcement and deportation of a sponsor that might be wanting to step forward,” says Castro, who is demanding a list of every child and their parents taken by ICE.

SENSITIVE REPORTING: The New York Times turned three of its reporters on one of its own, 26-year-old Ali Watkins, for its look into how her affair with a top security aide in Congress has rattled Washington. “What I see is the Trump administration seizing a reporter’s records and tricking the press into writing about her sex life,” said one Watkins defender, her former editor at the Huffington Post, Ryan Grim. “It’s appalling what the Trump administration is doing, and I don’t think you should enable it.”

THE BLAZE IMPLODING?: That’s what The Daily Beast is reporting about the right-wing media empire Glenn Beck founded. Beck walked off Brian Stelter’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday when he was asked about this story.

SINCLAIR UNITES ENEMIES: Usually, the ACLU and the conservative Parents Television Council oppose each other, but they’ve both told regulators that the proposed purchase of Tribune’s 42 stations by the nation’s biggest local station owner is dangerous, Bloomberg’s Todd Shields reports. Both sides argue that the purchase would make Sinclair too big and diminish local voices.

HOW THE ACCENTS GOT ON THE MEXICAN JERSEYS: Paulina Chavira, a New York Times editor in Mexico City, played a role in ending an archaic practice on the Mexican national team’s shirts for the World Cup. (And the squad has been successful so far).

What we’re reading

UH OH: Seven creepy patents Facebook is seeking. “Taken together, Facebook’s patents show a commitment to collecting personal information, despite widespread public criticism of the company’s privacy policies,” Sahil Chinoy writes.

THE WISDOM OF YOUTH: First she wanted to paint her face white. Then she suggested they stop talking Spanish on the street. Valeria Luiselli writes that her 6-year-old daughter knew before she did: "A new America, under Mr. Trump, where Hispanic children would be in serious danger." What it's like living as a peewee representation of the what Luiselli calls the Trump hate campaign.

TALKING, NOT SINGING: Charming, outgoing, Linda Ronstadt speaks in a near-whisper, the effects of the Parkinson's. These days, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Joel Selvin writes, her friends sing to Ronstadt, "not the other way around."

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Big thanks to Kristen Hare for editing this.

And have a good Monday.