View profile

The Onion tees off on Facebook

After a week away in Los Angeles playing video games for work, I arrived today eager to catch up on a
June 18 · Issue #155 · View online
The Interface
After a week away in Los Angeles playing video games for work, I arrived today eager to catch up on all the news I missed while I was away. It felt like an unusually slow day on the ol’ social-media-and-democracy front. Was something else going on? Let’s see … ah yes, the Trump administration has opened concentration camps for children. I have to say, hearing their screams put a lot of what I do into perspective. That perspective was me laying face up, staring at the ceiling, crying!
On the assumption that you’ve read quite enough about that subject for that day — or maybe not enough? Can you ever read enough? — let’s turn our attention to something radically less consequential: The Onion’s war on Facebook. On Thursday and Friday, the satirical news site published 11 critical items about the company, from “Mark Zuckerberg Recalls Coming Up With Idea For Facebook After Seeing Dopamine-Addicted Lab Rat Starve To Death” to “Sheryl Sandberg’s MIT Commencement Address Clearly References Personal Data Of Individual Graduating Students.”
The Onion has satirized Facebook plenty over the years, but never in terms that felt quite this personal. The site copped to the vendetta; editor in chief Ryan Knackers told Karissa Bell:
“We are strong proponents of the First Amendment, and the fuel of a functioning democracy is the free flow of information. Facebook, the world’s largest sieve of personal data, has become an unwanted interloper between The Onion, and our audience. We have 6,572,949 followers on Facebook who receive an ever-decreasing amount of the content we publish on the network. Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly betrayed the trust of billions of people. What you’ve seen over the last 48 hours is only the tip of the iceberg.”
It’s a sharp departure in tone for the Onion, which has traditionally maintained a too-cool-for-school approach when it comes to media criticism. In its worldview, the media always plays the fool. This is the publication that gave us “Majority Of Newspapers Now Purchased By Kidnappers To Prove Date” and “Fox News Reporter Asks the Questions Others Are Too Smart to Ask.”
But the Onion is a media publication like any other, and it wound up buffeted by the same forces that affected the companies it made fun of. Its print edition, formerly a vital source of revenue, ended in 2013. In 2016 it was acquired by Spanish-language TV giant Univision, where it has lately been subject to management turmoil and worries about layoffs.
All of that context feels necessary to understanding this sudden focus on Facebook, where it has 6 million followers and decreasingly less success in reaching them. The Onion’s editorial stance on Facebook has been relatively consistent — in 2010 it published “Entire Facebook Staff Laughs As Area Man Tightens Privacy Settings” — but this week it got much more personal. 
It attacked CEO Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly, and in the most personal terms. It wrote a satirical op-ed in the voice of his daughter and satirical news story suggesting his wife had left him. The more the Onion published, the less funny any of it seemed. The sustained assault was first surprising, then wearying, and finally just ugly. Satire fails when it primarily serves to engender sympathy for its target. 
In a day full of bummers, it was a small thing. But the Onion has long been one of our best and most ferocious media critics — and in its all-out assault on Facebook, it came across as dumb and diminished.

How Apple’s Tim Cook Became Tech’s Top Diplomat
Wikipedia vandalism could thwart hoax-busting on Google, YouTube and Facebook
Facebook’s troublesome local media tactics
An Armed Man Spouting A Bizarre Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory Was Arrested After A Standoff At The Hoover Dam
Tech campus security officers protest for better wages
Unilever Demands Influencer Marketing Business Clean Up Its Act
If You’re A Facebook User, You’re Also a Research Subject
Here Are 18 Things You Might Not Have Realized Facebook Tracks About You
While You Were Gawking at Snapchat Posts, One Artist Was Listening to Them
Facebook and Google must do more to support Wikipedia
And finally ...
Jack Dorsey Got a Nose Ring
Talk to me
How are you holding up? Was today a hard day for you too? Is your tech company doing anything about the whole child concentration camp thing or naw?
Did you enjoy this issue?
If you don't want these updates anymore, please unsubscribe here
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here
Powered by Revue