Why is Facebook Blocking Medium Links?

A simple mistake, or is there more to it?

Photo by John Matychuk on Unsplash

If you’re a Medium writer and you’re active on Facebook then you will know that the social media behemoth has been blocking a lot of Medium links lately — identifying them either as “spam” or claiming they contravene Facebook’s “community standards”. Sometimes, the writers who find their posts containing Medium links are blocked cannot post any links at all.

The bottom line is that this is causing pain for writers who use Facebook to promote their Medium pieces to friends, family, colleagues, fellow writers and even total strangers. Promotion and marketing is an important part of making it as a writer in a crowded marketplace — and Facebook is vital to that.

Like it or loathe it, the fact is nearly 4 billion people across the globe are active social media users, and Facebook is the biggest social media platform.

There are pros and cons to all social media platforms when it comes to getting your stories out there. I know people who will swear blind that Instagram (also owned by Facebook) or Twitter is better when it comes to driving traffic to your stories than Facebook, but the fact remains Facebook is ubiquitous and, particularly thanks to a number of Medium-orientated groups on the platform, a great place to get your work seen. There are also writers on Medium who have author/writer pages on Facebook which is another way to showcase your work to the world.

Except if you can’t post your links, you can’t show your work to anyone. There is a rather clunky workaround, which is to post your link on Twitter and then post a link to your Tweet on Facebook — but it’s not ideal, and requires an extra click from your prospective reader. It might not sound like a lot of effort (and it’s not!) but in a world of instant gratification how many people might decide not to bother and go look at something else instead?

Why is this happening?

We know what is happening, but we don’t know why. Facebook — Mark Zuckerberg aside — is a faceless corporation. You can’t pick up the phone to Facebook HQ and ask, you can’t easily locate an email address for the relevant person in charge of the right department to get a problem resolved.

Facebook, instead, is all algorithms and robotics and mystery. Sure, you can appeal against the decision to block your links, but you have no insight into who will view your appeal, and on what grounds they will make a decision. Hell, you don’t even know why your link was blocked in the first place!

(If anyone can point me in the direction of the “community standards” personal essays about parenting are in violation of when Facebook will happily leave up posts calling for violent insurrection then please do so.)

Jason Weiland has speculated that this could all be an act of long-gestating revenge for Zuckerberg against Medium head honcho Ev Williams for his refusal to sell him Twitter back in 2009. And hey, maybe it is. Blocking some traffic to a rival website over a decade since the feud seems pretty petty, but I could absolutely picture Zuckerberg being that kind of petty.

One theory I have is that Facebook wants to keep people in its little ecosystem. Facebook wants you on Facebook for as long as possible. It’s why Messenger and the Facebook-owned WhatsApp want to be your default messaging and call apps when you install them. It’s why, when you’re browsing on the Facebook mobile app and click a link, you get taken to the link but remain in the Facebook app.

Except Medium has its own app. If you’re a Medium writer, or a regular reader, chances are you have it. Click a Medium link from the Facebook app and you won’t stay on Facebook — the story will open in the Medium app, instead.

This will happen a lot in the Medium Facebook groups, filled with people sharing their work and reading the work of their fellow writers.

I wonder if this has been noticed at Facebook. They see all that traffic from people going to the Facebook groups and then…that traffic is gone elsewhere. Away from Facebook, off Facebook, to Medium.

If you block people from sharing links then that bleed of traffic is stopped. More people stay on Facebook, less people hop of to Medium or elsewhere.

Make no mistake, Facebook cares about this. Its app has an “Off-Facebook Activity” monitor. The company’s reasoning is that it easily allows users to see (and delete) what data Facebook has on them, and while that may be true, it’s hard to see the “Off-Facebook Activity” data as anything other than Zuckerberg and co. wanting to know what you do, where you go, and what you buy, away from Facebook. Maybe they saw Medium cropping up a lot on the monitor, and maybe they decided to do away with that particular non-Facebook diversion for the most prolific link-posters-and-clickers.

Of course, this may all be pie in the sky stuff. Maybe it’s not so nefarious, and maybe this is (yet another) case of one of Facebook’s algorithms misidentifying posts and erroneously thinking innocent Medium links are spam.

Hopefully, that is the case and this issue is resolved soon. Because if not, and it is deliberate, then the pain for Facebook-using Medium writers will continue.

Thanks for reading. Keep in touch on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, join the mailing list, or reach out via email: davefox990@hotmail.com.

Navigating parenting with a disability and trying to write a novel. Email: davefox990@hotmail.com

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