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Introducing a New, Non-Evil Way to Share our Stories on Facebook

Let your friends know how smart you are. Share what you read on ProPublica on Facebook.

We launched a new feature today that makes it possible to automatically share on Facebook any ProPublica articles you read.

Don’t worry: This will impact you only if you turn on automatic sharing. And you can turn it off anytime. Here’s a guide to what you’re sharing, when you’re sharing it, and how to turn it off.

What is this thing?

It’s called “frictionless sharing,” and it’s the easiest way to share what you’re reading on ProPublica with your Facebook friends – no more extra clicks to let your friends know what you think is important.

Any article that you’ve read for a minimum of 10 seconds gets added to your Facebook profile (in your “Activity” box for Timeline profiles).

And why would I want to do this?

Because it’ll be easier to share stories. We also want our stories to have impact, and that means we want people reading and them. You can help. Plus, we like to think our stories are pretty smart – which means our readers are, too. Let your friends know.

Is this like those annoying Facebook apps that force me to sign up before I can read the article?

No. You don’t have to sign up for anything to read our stories. If your friends on Facebook click one of the articles you’ve posted, they’ll just get the article on our site.

I’m in. How do I do this? And if I change my mind, how do I turn it off?

To turn it on, just look in the upper right hand corner of an article you’re reading, and click on this big blue button that says “Enable Social Reading.”

Once it’s turned on, you’ll see a line in the lower left-hand corner of the box that says “Social sharing is on.” To turn it off, just click at the end of that sentence, and you’ll get an option to disconnect.

What if I don’t want everyone to see everything I read?

You’re in complete control here. Toggle it on or off, share one story, but not another. We get that not everyone wants to share everything they’ve read on Facebook, so we’ve made it easy to customize.

The most recent thing you’ve read will show up under “Added to your activity feed.” To un-share it, just click the red x.

And if you click on “Your Shared Items,” you’ll see a list of everything you’ve read and shared. You can also un-share articles from this list.

If I turn this on, does that mean you have access to my Facebook info?

Nope. We’re not saving anything at all. All our app does is keep track of whether or not you want automatic sharing on or off. One caveat: Umbel, a research firm, will track your Facebook usage to give us information, only in the aggregate, providing us a more detailed portrait of ProPublica's audience.

Will you hate me if I don’t use this?

Not at all. But we would appreciate if you’d consider emailing, tweeting or manually posting to Facebook the stories that you find important. You can help us have impact.

Questions, trouble, comments, feedback? We want to hear from you! Fill out our feedback form.

Love the work you do at ProPublica, but this “frictionless sharing” trend is awful. Sharing articles on social media has traditionally been an active act of conversation, not a passive act generated automatically by an app. I don’t want my friends to be able to casually view my reading habits, nor do I want to automatically see what they are reading.  Reading in and of itself is not a social act.  It’s true that there are articles that I do want to share and discuss, but certainly not all of them.  As good as ProPublica is, no news outlet hits a homerun on every article.  Imagine the impossibly cluttered mess that Facebook will become if every news outlet implements this idea and users start automatically sharing every article that they spend 10 seconds reading.

I recognize that you are being transparent about the fact that this is an opt-in feature.  I just want to make sure you hear the feedback that at least among my circle of friends, we view social reader apps with suspicion.  They just seem like another Facebook tactic for collecting user data and selling it back to advertisers.

Daniel Victor

June 12, 2012, 2:11 p.m.

Hi Jay, ProPublica social media editor here. We completely hear you and we know there are many readers who share like you (and thanks for doing it!).

But we also know there are readers who will want the option, so we designed it to be useful for them while having no impact on readers like you. Simply making it an opt-in experience wouldn’t be good enough if we were forcing you to opt in—we’re not going to do that. Your time on ProPublica will be completely uninterrupted.

I think of it like a dessert menu. If you’re full from dinner, there’s no harm in not ordering dessert. But it’s a good idea to have the menu ready for those who will want it.

And to be clear, we are not collecting any data from this app. As the FAQ says, “All our app does is keep track of whether or not you want automatic sharing on or off.”

People should turn automatic social sharing off in Facebook.  I am sure there are many people who will see “Dave is reading such and such” and take it as an implicit endorsement of the article.  But what if I read an article and think its utter tripe?  Or violently disagree with the conclusions of the article? If I have frictionless sharing on then I would have to go to facebook to remove it or to post my disagreeable comments about it.  People won’t bother with that extra friction so the implicit endorsement stays around.

Of course none of this will impact me directly because I don’t use facebook at all.  This social frictionless sharing thing is one more reason not to.  Facebook is a pox on the internet.

Daniel Victor

June 12, 2012, 4:04 p.m.

Dave, if you opted into sharing and wanted to remove it from Facebook, you can easily do it from the article page here.

Thanks for the reply.  Privacy protection on the part of ProPublica isn’t really my concern.  The fact that it’s an opt-in system that’s turned off as the default is the right course.  The thing about comparing frictionless sharing to desserts, though, is that most people think ice cream is tasty even if we aren’t hungry for it after dinner.  I’ve never met anyone who loves social reader apps.  In my experience, reactions tend to occupy the spectrum between loathing to indifference.

One more specific issue - I know with the Washington Post’s social reader app, when a friend auto-shares an article on Facebook, other people can’t click through to the article unless they agree to activate that reader app.  This leads many users to activate it without realizing that they’re agreeing to share every subsequent article they read on Washington Post.  That process is deceptive, and it catches quite a few people.  For other users who don’t want to install the app, they end up missing out on the article.  In either case, friction wasn’t removed - it was just transferred from the initial reader to the secondary reader.

Facebook’s business model depends on coercing users to share more content, so regardless of what either of us thinks, the trend is here to stay.  I just don’t see the benefit to ProPublica readers or to those secondary readers you want to reach.  Taste and editing are central to having a positive user experience on a social network.  Reader apps are just another step toward breaking down user discretion on what we share.  Imagine if a professional photographer adopted the philosophy of frictionless sharing.  Using every photo (raw and unaltered) for an album is certainly easy and would lead to more content being shared.  The problem is that edited compilations are far more interesting.

It’s just my $.02.  Keep up the good work on the articles.

Daniel Victor

June 12, 2012, 5:33 p.m.

Thanks, Jay. We’ll be watching to see how many people sign up, so we’ll have firm numbers soon on how many people find it useful.

To clarify on your second point, if you were to see a ProPublica link that your friend had frictionlessly shared, it would take you to our site, not to a stand-alone app like the Washington Post uses. I just want to make clear that no one will have to install an app to read one of our stories.

Dave, Facebook makes more sense when you look at the feature-set.  It’s a place where you can go to make a page for yourself, send and receive messages, and share things you found interesting.

It’s basically another Internet, except someone owns it and controls everything you put on it.  Whee!  So, not quite a pox, just sort of like a proprietary Earth that nobody notices isn’t as good as the real one.

I recommend getting an account, though, on any social networking site that gets serious.  Just don’t use it.  Populate your profile with your name, education, and work history, then abandon the thing.  It makes a good “Bat-Signal” for people you’ve lost contact with.  They send you a message that gets relayed to your e-mail, and you can log in to point them to your e-mail or ignore them.

It’s actually a pretty good tool, when you don’t actually use it for its intended purpose.

As for this tool, from ProPublica’s position and probably also for those of us who enjoy the discussions in the comments, this sort of sharing is probably a long-term benefit in terms of getting eyeballs pointing this way.  For all the formal recognition and partners they’ve gotten, I feel like everybody I’ve mentioned the place to has been surprised that such a thing existed.

James C Petersen

June 14, 2012, 8:35 a.m.

So we lose the share button, in other words we have to do social reader or copy the url to our facebook page instead of you providing the traditional link? Why not both.

“So, not quite a pox, just sort of like a proprietary Earth that nobody notices isn’t as good as the real one.”

I think I saw that movie and it didn’t end well.

ProPublica does deserve all the traffic they can get, but just like our electricity don’t you think we ought to care how it was generated and distributed?

Facebook is a blackhole where all traffic goes in and none comes out. And as long as we continue to surrender to its gravitational pull the stronger that pull gets.

Do you really want to feed an external central gate keeper to ProPublica?  A place where they can censor comments, or redirect traffic if they don’t like an article?

Draw a line in the sand. You don’t need facebook, there is an entire internet out there to share with in an open and free fashion.

Daniel Victor

June 14, 2012, 9:23 a.m.

James: You won’t lose the share buttons or anything else from before. We’re adding this feature, but everything else is exactly the same.

Dave: Firstly, thanks for the compliment! Glad you like us. Otherwise, it’s important to note that we aren’t “surrendering” anything to Facebook; we just made it easier for people who use Facebook to link to us. All of the traffic will remain here, and Facebook will have no control over our comments. We thought it was very important for us to maintain control over our content, and this form of sharing allows us to do so.

Ingraham Effingham

June 18, 2012, 3:52 p.m.

I wonder if it’s necessary to hand FB more mined data; I believe they have enough already.

As much as I’d love to increase readership of my favorite sites, I’d rather use my own discretion and judgement when sharing personal demographic info, than allow FB to pick and choose (and get rich from it.)

FB derives it’s wealth, utility and essentially it’s power from the average person’s “what the hell” attitude and/or narcissism towards uploading personal data.  This in itself isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing (tech is inherently neutral, i believe) but FB’s track record shows that their ultimate perrogative is to collect user data and make money by selling it.

What would happen if everybody did this for every site they visit? At worst you would have the ultimate internet surveillance database.  At best you mess of non-relevant postings, and an ad-generator’s wet dream.

I personally don’t see the value in that, and will gladly forgo my ego’s need to display to the world what i happen to be reading right now.

Ingraham Effingham

June 18, 2012, 3:56 p.m.

As far as the ease of toggling it on and off, this is really only nominally easier than posting a link on FB.  Seems like it’s designed to be easier just to leave it on like “what the hell”

Also, I don’t think “unsharing” is the same as “removing from FB’s database.”  I could be wrong here though.

...isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing (tech is inherently neutral, i believe)

True technology itself is neutral but there are better and worse applications for it. Eg. Medicine or BioWeapon.

Think of the printing press.  If if someone it that day and age had said, you know what instead of you having to buy a printing press just send your stuff to me and I will print and distribute it for you.  Would the liberal revolutions of 1848 have happened? Would we have democracy at all?  If a king or state ordered all presses seized or smashed you would say that it was clearly wrong.  But is there really a functional difference between that and people voluntarily giving control of the press to a central authority? 

Distributed systems of disseminating information are good (like the internet) are good, centralized control of information flow are bad. (like FB).

diversity good, mono-cultural bad, open protocols good, propitiatory protocols bad.

The tide comes in slowly, but it does come in and then your under water.

Ingraham Effingham

June 19, 2012, 9:20 a.m.

True, and this centralization is what makes it so tempting for sites to throw their lot in.  You practically HAVE to have a FB like button or ‘tweet this’ option to maintain readership, to keep your site near the top of google (another centralized locus of info dissemination.)

The crazy thing is that all of this centralization and power is handed to these ‘moguls’ by the users’ own volition.  Everybody does it, so everybody has to do it.  I guess it’s kind of a microcosm for a state’s power; all they have is what the people give them.

I can’t really fault Propublica for adding itself to the pile.  Regardless of the level of profit motive one has, you gotta play ball like a capitalist to get noticed in a capitalist world.  But, it would just be refreshing to see someone ‘take a stand’ and NOT do this.

I miss the days when ‘selling out’ was a mark of blemish, not something that you are forced to do.

well said

There are ways of providing this frictionless sharing without using a central authority.  I am not a shill for Diaspora but it is a facebook alternative that is setup in the “right” way.  Its a social network with most or all of the features of Facebook but instead of one company owning the servers and controlling the info flow, anyone can set up a Diaspora node and link it to all the others.  It’s an open protocol that others are free to innovate on.

This is the kind of distributed design that makes the internet great.  Maybe ProPublica should see if they could add a “Share with Diaspora” on their site?  The open non-propriety systems could use the boost.

Great discussion. I’m on the side of the anti-frictionless sharing debate. And REALLY surprised that no one has addressed the 10 second rule. Who could possibly decide the value of sharing an article in the first 10 seconds of reading? Unless, of course, you’re Evelyn Woods.

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