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How Facebook’s attack on ad blockers screws publishers

Last week’s “cat and mouse” game between Facebook and ad blocking software is being framed as a battle over the best interests of Facebook users. But caught in the crossfire are publishers, and by extension their readers. And when it’s over, publishers will be little more than collateral damage.

The publisher-Facebook relationship that once seemed so mutually beneficial now becomes “complicated,” to say the least. Even as recent news feed changes have hurt the reach of publishers, Facebook’s aggressive stand against ad blocking might suggest that the company is on the side of publishers. But Facebook’s actions are going to have grave, likely unintended, consequences.

The company’s announcement about circumventing ad blockers and delivering only carefully targeted ads may prove fatal for those publishers who still see Facebook as their salvation. And it doesn’t matter that Adblock Plus had already responded with a workaround to block ads on Facebook. Or that Facebook may be hiding content from users who fortify their ad blockers with extra stopping power.

You see, whereas once Facebook promised salvation with its ever-expanding universe of potential readers, the social network is now poised to garner an ever bigger share of the world’s ad dollars — at the expense of media companies.

Facebook always seems to find new ways to make itself more attractive — and more addictive — to publishers, but time has shown that the more publishers depend on Facebook, the worse they are treated. Media companies thus have a second devil’s bargain: Publish to Facebook with Instant Articles and count on the network to defeat ad blockers, even if it means that news stories are being de-prioritized and hence viewed by fewer people; or, well, go take a hike.

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