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Weekly Digest: Facebook Papers’ Media Angle, Telegram Ads Platform

Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! Every week, we bring you important news stories  from the world of media – and try to put them in a wider context.

The publication of Facebook Papers, a trove of documents revealing inner workings of the world’s largest social media service, has been among the biggest media stories this week. 

The Facebook Papers are noteworthy by themselves – they show serious flaws in the company’s moderation system, as well as Facebook losing ground among young people, among others. But there’s also an important media angle here.

Unlike the Facebook Files, a previous installment of the document leak that whistleblower Frances Haugen shared with The Wall Street Journal, the Facebook Papers have been reported by a large and growing consortium of several dozen media outlets. 

Axios notes that the Facebook Papers show that “news outlets are increasingly willing to work together on big, multifaceted stories.” The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi also writes about investigative reporters’ growing willingness to cooperate as the complexity of the stories they have to uncover increases. 

More from The Fix: The changing realities of working in investigative journalism 

The cooperation, however, hasn’t come without tension. Unlike other notable joint investigations, such as the Panama Papers, the consortium was formed ad hoc and doesn’t have a central governing body, using Slack to communicate between themselves. The New York Times media columnist Ben Smith reported that some outlets broke the self-imposed embargo, publishing their stories earlier than planned.  

There are also growing calls to make the documents publicly available rather than limiting access to select media outlets, including the calls from within the consortium. Observers also pointed out that, at the time of formation, the consortium didn’t include any publication from the Global South

Facebook, in the meanwhile, reported strong financial results and rebranded its parent company to Meta, reflecting its growing interest in building the metaverse, while slamming the investigations as attempts to “paint a false picture of [the] company”.

Telegram, a messaging service that has increasingly become a media platform, has launched its ad service. The service will start displaying advertising on its public channels that have over 1,000 subscribers.  

Telegram’s ad platform, at least in its beta form, will be somewhat distinct from competing services. Notably, the advertising won’t be targeted based on users’ personal information. This means that “every user viewing a particular channel on Telegram sees the same sponsored messages,” according to the description.

The ads are limited to 160 characters, designed to be unobtrusive, and will be moderated. Telegram’s leadership says they plan to start sharing ad revenues with channel owners – but at a later stage, once the ads “are fully launched and allow Telegram to cover its basic costs.”

More from The Fix: Not quite Signal, not yet WeChat: can Telegram fulfill its ambitious mission? 

Authorities in Belarus seem to be breaking new ground in their freedom of speech crackdown as they are increasingly prosecuting people for subscribing to opposition Telegram channels. As Novaya Gazeta reports, “now, one can get up to seven years in jail time for being subscribed to independent Telegram channels.”

Early this week, 30 people were detained in Gomel, a city in southeastern Belarus. People are forced to record video confessions (a tool widely used by the Belarus regime) where they say they are “deeply sorry” for “having subscribed to extremist Telegram channels.” 

According to Novaya Gazeta, typical punishments include a 15-day arrest or a large fine. Prosecuting people for subscribing to independent Telegram channels seems to be the regime’s last resort as, unlike with websites, the authorities cannot just block them.

The good news is you don’t have to subscribe to a Telegram channel to read it.

More from The Fix: Nexta — the channel behind Belarus’ Telegram revolution 

Bonus — Three more stories you might want to check out:

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


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