Maybe Rethink the Cult of Virality?


TechCrunch has a story seemingly sympathetic to Facebook’s plight, which has this graf in it:

Because Facebook and some other platforms reward engagement, news outlets are incentivized to frame stories as sensationally as possible. While long-running partisan outlets may be held accountable for exaggeration, newer outlets built specifically to take advantage of virality on networks like Facebook don’t face the same repercussions. They can focus on short-term traffic and ad revenue, and if people get fed up with their content, they can simply reboot with a different brand.

It then says, given this, Facebook is really between a rock and a hard place. They don’t want to become the truth police, right? But on the other hand they don’t want lies, either. What’s a billion dollar company to do?

Again, I’d say think a little bigger. We have prayed at the altar of virality a long time, and I’m not sure it’s working out for us as a society. If reliance on virality is creating the incentives to create a culture of disinformation, then consider dialing down virality.

We know how to do this. Slow people down. Incentivize them to read. Increase friction, instead of relentlessly removing it.

Facebook is a viral sharing platform, and has spent hundreds of millions getting you to share virally. And here we are.

What if Facebook saw itself as a deep reading platform? What if it spent hundreds of millions of dollars getting you read articles carefully rather than sharing them thoughtlessly?

What if Facebook saw itself as a deep research platform? What if it spent its hundreds of millions of dollars of R & D building tools to help you research what you read?

This idea that Facebook is between a rock and a hard place is bizarre. Facebook built both the rock and the hard place. If it doesn’t like them, it can build something different.

5 thoughts on “Maybe Rethink the Cult of Virality?

  1. There are plenty of deep reading platforms. My general disappointment with them is they are pretty bad at sharing. So, my typical workflow is to send stuff I see on Facebook to Pocket and spend time deep reading. Then from Pocket share the important things to Facebook.

    Not always. But, after the recent events I do intend to be more disciplined about that process. It’ll probably last 6 months maybe.

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