The Onion’s editor-in-chief explains why he’s going to war against Facebook – Tech News| Tech News
CEO Mark Zuckerberg
- The Onion has launched a campaign against Facebook,
even announcing its own spoof social network.
- In an interview with Business Insider, the satirical
news site’s editor-in-chief said Facebook is throttling its
traffic and should consider paying publishers who use the
- The Onion isn’t pulling any punches — even joking that
Mark Zuckerberg’s wife has left him for the CEO of “Onion
The Onion has declared war on Facebook
— and now it’s getting personal.
Over the past few days, the satirical news site has published a
barrage of articles mocking the social network, culminating
the announcement on Monday of “Onion Social,” a new spoof
social network that promises users “access to
unfettered information, unparalleled reportage, and unmatched
connectivity to friends and family without regard to the
In an interview with Business Insider, The Onion’s
editor-in-chief Chad Nackers said the anti-Facebook campaign has
been prompted by how the company has throttled the traffic it
sends to The Onion and other publishers in attempts to make them
pay for ads.
“We’ve developed a big audience. That audience is hanging
out on Facebook looking at things and it seems like we should be
able to reach them,” Nackers said. “It seems like [Facebook is] taking another thing away from us by saying ‘well you can’t reach
the people who follow your page unless you spend money.'” (Scroll
down for the full interview.)
“You wouldn’t expect HBO to just give all their programs
for free to a cable network. There would be some kind of carriage
fee or something,” Nackers said.
And he said that Facebook’s efforts to clamp down on “fake news”
may be hurting parody sites like The Onion, though Facebook
responded that that’s not the case.
“I can’t prove that that has happened, but I feel that
since 2016, since post-election, it has felt like … Anyone can
report that this is ‘fake news,’ and unfortunately that’s what
people do,” Nackers told Business Insider.
No punches are being pulled in The Onion’s assault on
The Onion has published more than a dozen articles about
Facebook since Thursday — and it’s not pulling any punches. One
of the first poked fun of the 34-year-old CEO: Mark
Zuckerberg Insists Anyone With Same Skewed Values And Unrelenting
Thirst For Power Could Have Made Same
A particularly dark op-ed
pretended to be Mark Zuckerberg’s baby daughter, telling him:
I Don’t Want To Live In The World Your Website Has
The “child” wrote:
“Come on, Daddy. The whole thing is so completely obvious. All
you and your website do is hurt people. I mean, really, what you
did to journalism alone! You created a platform that cripples
publishers and severely limits the reach of their content.
Facebook made it so hardly anyone can afford to pay reporters
anymore. And it made people stop trusting the news. Don’t you
understand how essential a free press is to preserving our
democracy? Don’t you know anything about the Constitution?
“Christ, Daddy, didn’t you go to Harvard?”
And on Monday, after the announcement of Onion Social,
Zuckerberg’s wife Priscilla Chan appeared in the firing line:
Priscilla Chan Leaves Mark Zuckerberg For Onion Social
“I finally woke up to the lie I’ve
been living—Mark just isn’t enough for me,” she is quoted as
saying. “He can’t satisfy me intellectually or physically, and
the second I saw Onion Social, I knew I had to be with whoever
created that ingenious, pioneering site.”
People who try and sign up for Onion Social, once they
navigate the labyrinthine questionnaire (“What is the first name
of the person you lost your virginity to?” “Where were you on the
night of the murder?”), are invariably rejected. Nackers was coy
about whether the company had actually built a functioning social
network — it seems unlikely — but teased further developments in
the story over the days ahead.
“We’ll see what happens. I’m assuming the FBI will shut it down
in a few days, probably,” he said.
It’s an elaborate joke — months in the making, he said — but with
a serious point. The editor called on Facebook to let publishers
reach their audiences without paying, and even to consider paying
publishers for posting content to the site.
He also questioned whether Facebook’s “fake news” crackdown has
hurt The Onion’s traffic, and suggested a (real)
replacement for Facebook might soon be necessary.
“I understand private companies have a right to do things, but
then it makes me think there needs to be a new private company
that’s better than Facebook,” he said. “I feel that ultimately it
could come down to something like that because that seems where
we’re headed at this point. They don’t seem to want to budge.”
In a statement, Facebook spokesperson Adam Isserlis said:
“We announced ranking updates this winter to show
people more posts from their friends and family. This means we’ll
show less public content in News Feed and pages could see their
referral traffic decline. But we’re also working to make sure the
Page posts people do see are high quality. We’ve found that
people don’t report satirical content as false news because they
know it’s intended to be humorous. Generally, satire, including
The Onion, should not be impacted by our work to reduce false
Read the full interview below. The transcript has been
lightly edited for length and clarity.
BUSINESS INSIDER: So why are you doing this? What
prompted this wave of stories?
CHAD NACKERS: Facebook changes their algorithm repeatedly and so
it decreases the number of people who are seeing our content, and
I think we’re not super happy about that. Just because we provide
a steady stream of content for Facebook, 24 hours a day. At this
point they’re just getting our stuff for free, building their
traffic so their ad networks are firing and they’re selling
stuff, and we’re not getting much benefit from it.
It’s kind of ludicrous. You wouldn’t expect HBO to just give all
their programs for free to a cable network. There would be some
kind of carriage fee or something. So there’s certainly a
frustration. I think there’s times where it’s been better but in
the last three or four years, I feel like the algorithm has
played against us. I don’t know if satire has also played a role
in some of that.
Are you angry about the broader algorithm changes, or do
you feel like you’ve also been penalised in the last few months
by the changes Facebook has been making to crack down on
so-called fake news?
I can’t prove that that has happened, but I feel that since 2016,
since post-election, it has felt like … Anyone can report that
this is “fake news,” and unfortunately that’s what people do. I
think people who are unaware of what The Onion is, or what is the
point that’s being made — especially if they disagree with that
point — then they label it “fake news.”
We’ve come full circle here, where people didn’t understand what
satire was before, and now they don’t understand it on a
Have you seen a drop-off in traffic from Facebook since
Yeah, Facebook is not as reliable for us, so we’ve tried to get
other traffic sources, things like that. But it’s hard because
everyone has a fake news thing, and I think places are afraid of
comedy too, like we don’t have an Apple News thing.
There’s a narrowing of venues to get your content seen,
basically, and I think that maybe a larger thing is people have
been conditioned in how they use the internet. Now people just
scroll past things, and it’s important to visit websites. You
have to go to the-onion-dot-com and look at the content because
things like clicking likes or sharing articles doesn’t help us.
So why have you done this now? Did the Cambridge
Analytica scandal play a part in it?
The thing is we’ve been working on stuff for a few months, so
what comes out now is not necessarily based on something Facebook
just did this week. We were already developing these ideas at the
end of the 2017. I think that’s when we felt things had been
decreasing on Facebook and it just felt like it wasn’t as
worthwhile. There’s times when you think you can game the
Facebook algorithm by “oh, if we put up content at this time or
we wait before we put our a different thing or wait to re-promote
it it’ll have a different effect.” But I feel like some of that
stuff has kind of disappeared and just feels like they’re like:
“If you want your content to be seen you need to pay us more
It’s kind of a partnership — we’ve developed a big audience. That
audience is hanging out on Facebook looking at things and it
seems like we should be able to reach them. It seems like they’re
taking another thing away from us by saying “well you can’t reach
the people who follow your page unless you spend money.”
What kind of response would you like to see from
Facebook? What changes are you after in an ideal world?
I think we just want access to the people we follow, and the
algorithm not cutting us off so it’s getting to like 10% of the
people at any time. I’ve had people say “oh you guys never
publish anything,” because they don’t see stuff in their
I understand private companies have a right to do things, but
then it makes me think there needs to be a new private company
that’s better than Facebook. I feel that ultimately it could come
down to something like that because that seems where we’re headed
at this point. They don’t seem to want to budge.
I think all their data mining has been a huge blemish on what
they’ve done and there’s a lot of privacy concerns, and it has
sidestepped what they’ve done to publishers over the last few
years. This is not just The Onion, it’s every media company. They
encourage you to do Instant Articles, and keep you on Facebook
and do videos that are playing on Facebook. Then they just turn
that spigot of your content reaching people — they turn it down,
it feels like, every few months it gets tightened a little bit.
Let’s talk about Onion Social. What are you trying to
achieve with this, and should we expect to see more along these
lines beyond what’s come out today?
Yes. Onion Social is our solution to this problem, of creating a
place where the content, whatever you post, it’s uncensored, it’s
not suppressed. You can go on there and share with the other 12
billion users. Social media has slowly cracked down more and more
on people, and it doesn’t matter where you fall politically. They
are the overlords who decide who sees what. Onion Social is a
place where that’s not gonna be happening.
Have you built an actual social network? I took the entry
quiz and was rejected.
Well, you have to keep trying, and maybe better yourself so maybe
one day you can become accepted. We have all sorts, you can take
the tour to see the various influencers we have on the site.
So is it real?
I guess, you know, if the people come then it is a social
network, right? We’ll see what happens. I’m assuming the FBI will
shut it down in a few days, probably.
Have you talked to Facebook about these issues —
especially after this barrage of posts?
We’re in contact with them, I think we get the same story.
They’re very secretive about their algorithm, and they don’t
really reveal a whole lot. But we haven’t talked to them since
this barrage of content so it’ll be interesting to see if they
want to re-open talks about this.
They’re kind of blaming publishers for their troubles, I think.
And those problems are they got a little greedy about data mining
and that’s the core of that issue rather than “publishers tricked
If you want to know the anger about things, with our staff.
Russia bought $200,000 in ads — a fairly insignificant amount of
money — but they had a lot of power from it and exploited the
network, and that’s very frustrating that they would sell out the
country for so little. We would expect them to sell out for much
more money, at least.
In one of the recent stories, you use Mark Zuckerberg’s
baby daughter to attack him. It was clearly written in a way that
made Mark Zuckerberg, rather than his child, the butt of the joke
— but is there anything related to Mark Zuckerberg or Facebook
that would be beyond the pale? How do you make sure your jokes
are punching the right way?
I think we try to punch up, and I think using a child is a
powerful way to create emotion and show how terrible some of the
stuff is. If you go through the filter of the innocent baby, it
definitely changes how it all plays out. I think we have to try
to keep our limits because there’s a point. You don’t want to go
down a path where it’s getting into something that’s too loaded
of a topic, it just doesn’t seem fair to anyone.
So we try to punch where it hurts, but not go too far as “this is
just not even related to anything,” that’s where we stick to. But
they’re gut punches. We’re not going light on them.