Burn bright, fade fast: The many risks of blogging on Facebook
There’s been a lot written recently about how Facebook’s regularly shifting rules and algorithms are killing media organizations.
A few weeks ago, the company announced it would henceforth be prioritizing personal updates and posts over commercial ones. Oh, and by the way, it was also reducing the visibility of clickbaity headlines. And had recruited a team of arsonists to torch random newspaper offices.
But while everyone seems to be commiserating with poor downtrodden media conglomerates who, let’s be honest, are their own worst enemy for trusting Facebook in the first place, I’m a lot more interested in how Facebook treats its individual users.
This past Friday, author Jonathan Spyer wrote that he had been banned from Facebook for alegedly “support[ing] violent organizations.” Says Spyer...
I have never expressed support for ‘violent organizations’ on my page, other than support for the armed forces of the state of which I am a citizen, Israel, and perhaps also a general support for the Kurdish-led, western-backed forces fighting the Sunni jihadis of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Before I say any more, a disclaimer: I know nothing about Jonathan Spyer and it’s quite possible that he posted something outrageous about ISIS or some other nasty organization. Then again, as I’ve written before, Donald Trump repeatedly posts racist, sexist, anti-semitic garbage and remains not only unbanned, but proudly verified on Facebook. Meanwhile, the company has seen fit to ban users for posting breastfeeding pictures, for being a “poor parent”, for reading too fast, for having the same name as a celebrity, and even for actually being Salman Rushdie.
The overarching point is that Facebook is unaccountably, even gleefully, inconsistent when it comes to banning users. Every so often, a representative of the company, for reasons entirely of their own choosing, decides to obliterate a user’s presence from its platform. No warning, just gone.
And yet, and yet. Despite this, Facebook continues to become the dominant blogging platform for everyone from soccer moms to Presidential candidates. Sorry Medium, sorry Wordpress and sorry standalone blog platforms in general.
On paper, this mass shift away from standalone blogs to Facebook makes perfect sense for one big reason: Visibility. In the past, having crafted a great blog post, you’d then have to figure out a way to get people to actually read it. With Facebook that audience is built in, in the form of your social graph. If you want your friends to read your Very Important Post, you share it only with them. If you want to reach the whole world, you post it publicly. Facebook takes care of the rest. Except for celebrity bloggers and those who post on behalf of big media orgs, posting on Facebook guarantees your posts will be seen and shared more widely than a standalone Wordpress blog ever will. It’s a no brainer.
Have you ever tried to find an old blog post on Facebook? Where by old I mean posted more than a week ago? It’s infuriating. The very advantage of blogging on Facebook - instant visibility to your social graph - is also its downside. Facebook blog posts burn bright and then virtually vanish from your feed, replaced by the next shiny thing from your friends and those you follow. Facebook search is, has always been, a sack of crap - and good luck Googling for a single post. Yes, you can click and scroll and click and scroll and click until you finally find the post you’re looking for, but literally nobody has time for that.
Anil Dash just wrote a great post (on Medium, appropriately enough) about all the things we’ve lost from the old days of blogging. Search, blogrolls, update tracking are just a few of them.
Something that should also be included in that list: Longevity. That is, the permanence (by digital standards at least) of a standalone archive of blog posts, hosted on your own webspace, under your own domain. The ability to visit, say, Cory Doctorow’s ’s blog and page back through years and years of posts, safe in the knowledge that (hosting bills or Archive.org withstanding) they’ll still be available the next year and the next.
If I had to guess, I’d bet that for most bloggers, the amount of traffic a single, well written post gets on Facebook’s burn bright, fade fast platform is dwarfed by the traffic that same blog post would get over the far longer lifespan on a traditional, Google indexed blog. If you use Facebook to share a link to that self-hosted post (thus enjoying the best of both worlds) then I absolutely guarantee it.
And that’s before you factor in Facebook’s ability to wipe out your entire archive in seconds, either by changing their algorithm or by deciding you’re a little too chummy with extremists.
Let’s throw in some other standalone blog vs Facebook posts benefits into the mix: The ability to post whatever damn (legal) thing you want; infinitely more control over formatting, the ability to decide who (if anyone) can comment on your writing…
But we’re all shutting down out blogs and moving to Facebook and calling it progress.
Having quit Twitter last year, I’ve started posting more personal/non-Pando posts on Facebook. The more I think about it, the more I realize I chose to start posting on Facebook instead of reactivating my old blog for no good reason other than that’s what everyone else was doing. Have I made a horrible mistake? Or am I missing some reason why posting personal blog posts on Facebook is a better idea than putting them on a self-hosted blog that I own and control?
Andrew Anker, Pando’s Chairman, recently began working at Facebook after it acquired his previous company, Tugboat. Because of the conflict of interest risk, I haven’t asked him to weigh in on any of this before publication. But I’m going to ask him to weigh in after the fact. If he replies, I’ll add them as an update. I’d be curious to hear Pando readers’ thoughts too. Perhaps on - ahem - our new Facebook Group.
I’ll update this post with the best of those responses too.