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Data Sheet—Facebook Eviscerated Over Spread of Fake News

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If you read one thing today about tech, media, society, culture, and politics, make it the cover story of the March issue of Wired magazine. It’s an 11,000-word gem that reads like 3,000, a clear, precise, and brutal evisceration of Facebook and the havoc it has wrought on the news industry—and itself—for the last two years.

This isn’t a simple story. It involves a powerful company, a cocksure entrepreneur in CEO Mark Zuckerberg, gadfly critics who seemed less wacky as time went by, and even the occasional counter-villain, notably media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

In short, Wired editor-in-chief Nicholas Thompson and (my friend) Fred Vogelstein, a contributing editor, show how Facebook executives repeatedly failed to understand how crooks and then Russian operatives were misusing the Facebook platform. Simultaneously, Facebook was unable or unwilling to see the pernicious effects it was having on the news business.

There’s an irony to this article. It’s a stellar example of the sort of long-form journalism that no summaries or clickbait teases or listicles can replace, the kind of substantive analysis and storytelling that make democracy and capitalism function. (The article even has a defiantly anti-curiosity gap headline, meaning it tells you what the story is about: “Inside the Two Years that Shook Facebook—and the World.”) Yet it’s done by a publisher that recently instituted a partial paywall—you can read this article for free, and then you’ll get three more this month before having to subscribe—in an urgent hope to find a sustainable business model.

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Aaron mistakenly referred to Ralph Waldo Emerson at Walden Pond Monday when he meant Henry David Thoreau. He was referencing an article about an author’s favorite writing hideaway. People who write for a living need places like this. I wrote about mine here.

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Goldman Sachs begins its annual technology conference in San Francisco today. Key speakers will include Google Cloud’s Diane Greene, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Snap’s Evan Spiegel, Oracle’s Mark Hurd, LinkedIn’s Jeff Wiener, and Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi. While Goldman will allow the media to cover quite a few sessions, a curious selection will be closed to the press. A select group of speakers too chicken to allow the press to cover them include Hurd, Wiener, Dorsey, and a talk billed on the agenda as “Andreessen Horowitz on Cryptocurrencies.” Presumably for securities-law reasons, all the talks by public-company executives will be webcast.

Adam Lashinsky
@adamlashinsky
adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

Adam offered his take above on the Wired investigation of Facebook. I offered the link in yesterday’s newsletter, mentioning that I didn’t like the shook “the world” headline. It is a great story (and was the second-most clicked link in yesterday’s newsletter), but the headline reflects the view that Facebook has brought down on the world the scourge of fake news and altered the election results. As Duncan Watts and David Rothschild explained in a lengthy Columbia Journalism Review piece in December, also well worth your time, the influence and importance of both fake news and social media in the election have been exaggerated, while the very real and troubling failings of the actual news media largely overlooked.

There’s a hole in the bucket. Controversy over inappropriate videos on YouTube continued to roil Google. Keith Weed, CMO of Unilever, threatened to pull ads from sites that “do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate.” In an onstage interview at the Code Media conference, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said recent changes should address Weed’s concerns. “We take their feedback very seriously,” she said. “We want to do the right set of things to build their trust.” She also mocked Facebook’s video efforts. (“Get back to baby pictures.”)

Ups and downs. In chip land, the expert reviewers got their hands on two important innovations this week. Qualcomm’s next generation smartphone CPU, the Snapdragon 845, offers mostly incremental improvements, so “we should not have too high expectations” for 2018 Android phones, Anandtech concludes. AMD’s new combined Ryzen CPU and Vega GPU, however, may be a performance game changer for less expensive gaming PCs, with PC World saying “the excitement is warranted.”

Discount in aisle five. Speaking of phones, super-hyped phone startup Essential, founded by Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, may need a significant reboot in 2018. Its first model, introduced last summer, has sold fewer than 90,000 phones, a very tiny drop in the bucket in the 1.5 billion handset global market.

Your margin is my opportunity. Amazon roiled another part of the healthcare ecosystem, as the Wall Street Journal reported on a pilot program to sell medical supplies to hospitals. That hit the stock prices of major suppliers, including McKesson, down 3% in premarket trading on Tuesday, and Cardinal Health, down 2%.

Recycled. More and more news reading has gone online, but the New York Times sees continued demand for print on paper, CEO Mark Thompson said on Monday. “I believe at least 10 years is what we can see in the U.S. for our print products,” Thompson said in a CNBC interview.

See you in court. Microsoft hired a new chief diversity officer, grabbing IBM’s Lindsay-Rae McIntyre this week. Now IBM is suing, saying McIntyre violated a non-compete agreement. A federal judge barred McIntyre from starting at Microsoft at least until a February 22 hearing.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Amid the seemingly constant stream of bad news about the world, it’s hard to appreciate or evaluate the big picture. Bill and Melinda Gates try to do just that in their annual letter. The latest, out today, is headlined “The 10 Toughest Questions We Get.” It delves into explaining a lot of the Gates Foundation’s various activities as well as offering comments on the current president. (“Although we disagree with this administration more than the others we’ve met with, we believe it’s still important to work together whenever possible.”) They also discuss the fairness of having so much money and influence:

No. It’s not fair that we have so much wealth when billions of others have so little. And it’s not fair that our wealth opens doors that are closed to most people. World leaders tend to take our phone calls and seriously consider what we have to say. Cash-strapped school districts are more likely to divert money and talent toward ideas they think we will fund.

But there is nothing secret about our objectives as a foundation. We are committed to being open about what we fund and what the results have been. (It’s not always immediately clear what’s been successful and what hasn’t, but we work hard to assess our impact, course correct, and share lessons.) We do this work, and use whatever influence we have, to help as many people as possible and to advance equity around the world. Although we’ve had some success, I think it would be hard to argue at this point that we made the world focus too much on health, education, or poverty.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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Review: Apple’s HomePod Sounds Nice But You Shouldn’t Buy It—Yet By Don Reisinger

Barnes & Noble Is Laying Off Workers Amid Declining Sales By Casey Quackenbush

Fitbit Makes Acquisition to Enhance Health Care Service Offerings By Aaron Pressman

BEFORE YOU GO

Be careful covering up the next spray painted artwork you find decorating your property. A federal judge awarded 21 graffiti artists almost $7 million under the federal Visual Artists Rights Act, after the property owner of the 5Pointz complex in Long Island City, Queens erased dozens of pieces.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.