Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Coronavirus and Context Collapse on Medium

Zoe Schiffer, the Verge:

In many ways, this was Medium working as intended. The company operates both as a blogging platform and as a media outlet. Some articles, written by professional journalists who work at one of Medium’s publications, are fact-checked. Others are written by conspiracy theorists and contain dangerous misinformation. After all, the company’s mission, according to CEO Ev Williams, is to level the playing field and encourage “ideas that come from anywhere.”

As the pandemic disrupts life in the US, Medium has made strides to stop the spread of misleading health news. Its own publications, like OneZero and Elemental, have covered COVID-19 with the journalistic ethics, editing, and fact-checking you’d expect from a traditional outlet. Medium also started an official COVID-19 blog to promote articles from verified experts. It rolled out a coronavirus content policy and hired a team of science editors.

But the decision to curate some content — to hire professional journalists and promote verified articles — has made it harder to tell fact from fiction on the platform. While user-generated pieces now have a warning at the top telling users the content isn’t fact-checked, they look otherwise identical to those written by medical experts or reporters. In some ways, this is the promise of Medium: to make the work of amateurs look professional.

Much in the same way that social media networks tend to blur unique identities into a homogenous, context-averse feed, the uniform look of Medium posts make it harder to identify the higher-quality work of their own publications. Medium is running a contributor network by another name, and experiencing similar results: lots of charlatans taking advantage of higher production values and an established domain name.