When looking for scale, it’s difficult to beat Facebook’s billion-plus users accessing the service at least once a day.
But while there’s an upside to scale, there are downsides too – both for producers and consumers of quality journalism. These gated, monopolistic and largely algorithmically defined platforms:
• Perpetuate our world view by serving up content that previous behaviour suggests we would like rather than offering alternative voices, surprise and serendipity.
• Treat fake news with the same importance as quality journalism. This is in part because these companies insist they are platforms not publishers. (The Washington Post’s media columnist Margaret Sullivan calls Facebook and co “the reluctant news media”.)
• Reward those who understand optimisation, not necessarily those who deliver quality journalism
• Hoard advertising revenue that might otherwise be shared more equitably among creators of resource-intensive, crafted journalism
There’s a temptation to equate what is happening with social distribution to the uneasy pact publishers entered into with Google. But despite Google’s many imperfections – some of which have attracted the attention of European Commission regulators – the primary aim of a search engine is to open up the web, not close it down. Its purpose is to link outwards.