“It’s true — I saw it on Facebook”

“When my cousins’ Facebook timelines make no meaningful distinction between fact-checked magazine stories and flat-out lies from an AdSense scammer or a Fox News propagandist, the means by which meaningful public discourse can happen isn’t only damaged, it’s broken.”

Last year, my prediction was that 2016 would be the year journalism woke up to the dangers of permitting billionaires and secretively run corporations such as Facebook and Google to control the news. This prediction came, unfortunately, to pass. The devastating cost of ceding control of the country’s information to completely unaccountable and irresponsible Internet monopolists has now been made all too clear.

maria-bustillosMost dismayingly, Facebook’s failure to put a stop to the tsunami of propaganda and “fake news” on its site appears to have played a decisive role in the election of Donald Trump, though even now Facebook’s executives continue to deny their responsibility in the fracas, supplying no facts, argument, or reasoning for their convenient self-absolution for having blanketed the country in lies.

Whether it was generated by profit-seeking Macedonian teens or by propagandists of various stripes publishing sheer raving insanity (e.g., Pope Francis’s “endorsement” of Donald Trump), “fake news” was spread by hundreds of millions of Facebook users in the runup to the election. I was horrified to hear my own relatives at a family party last summer repeating the lie that Baltimore protesters against police violence had chanted “kill a cop” — a lie based on a Fox affiliate’s deliberately fraudulent editing of a protest video. Where did you see this, I asked my sadly misinformed and angry relatives? “It’s true — I saw it on Facebook,” one replied.

To speak out against “fake news” is not enough; that falsehoods can spread so fast and so damagingly online is only the beginning of the problem. Deeper and far worse is the growing disconnect between the public and the media. When my cousins’ Facebook timelines make no meaningful distinction between fact-checked magazine stories and flat-out lies from an AdSense scammer or a Fox News propagandist, the means by which meaningful public discourse can happen isn’t only damaged, it’s broken. I call this breakage dismediation, and it’s an entirely separate problem from “fake news,” a problem that is centered in the bad faith of profiteering publishers, from Mark Zuckerberg to the Macedonian teens he enables.

For 2017, I’ll venture a more hopeful prediction. There may still be time for the press to free itself of the dangers posed by Google, Facebook, and other online information gatekeepers. This can only be achieved by creating hard paywalls, and designing and instituting new safeguards against corporate encroachment over media. The good news is that the public is becoming aware of the threat posed to a free society by propaganda and fake news, and is therefore increasingly ready and willing to pay for honest reporting. That the New York Times is seeing a tenfold increase in subscription growth rate year over year is a good sign. For the free press to survive, it is crucial that media forge a new alliance with the public with a view to protecting both from corporate influence. I am hopeful that the new year will see this imperative put in motion.

Maria Bustillos is a critic and writer in Los Angeles.

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Mario García   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Nushin Rashidian   A rise in high-price, high-value subscriptions

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Earn trust by working for (and with) readers

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Tressie McMillan Cottom   A path through the media’s coming legitimacy crisis

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Maria Bustillos   “It’s true — I saw it on Facebook”

Richard J. Tofel   The country doesn’t trust us — but they do believe us

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

An Xiao Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Anita Zielina   The sales funnel reaches (and changes) the newsroom

Errin Haines Whack   Chaos or community?

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Trushar Barot   API or die

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Lam Thuy Vo   The primary source in the age of mechanical multiplication

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   News after advertising may look like news before advertising

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results