In conversations with more than fifteen journalists and industry observers, I tried to understand what it is like to cover Facebook. What I found was troublesome: operating with the secrecy of an intelligence agency and the authority of a state government, Facebook has arrogated to itself vast powers while enjoying, until recently, limited journalistic scrutiny. (Some journalists, like The Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr, have done important work linking Facebook data to political corruption in the UK and elsewhere.) Media organizations have stepped up their game, but they suffer from a lack of access, among other power asymmetries.
Many journalists contacted for this story declined to talk out of fear of hurting relationships with Facebook’s communications shop. A number of journalists agreed to be interviewed, only to pass after speaking to their editors and PR reps. Some spoke to me off the record.
Nearly everyone I talked to acknowledged that the relationship between Facebook and journalists had dramatically deteriorated in recent years. It wasn’t long ago, after all, that Facebook and its comms shop was, for many journalists, a valued source.
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