“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.

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

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

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

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

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

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

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

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

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

An Xiao Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

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

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

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

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Mario García   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Errin Haines   Chaos or community?

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

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

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Trushar Barot   API or die

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism