At some point over the past decade, Facebook stopped being a mostly harmless social network filled with baby photos and became one of the most powerful forces in media—with more than 2 billion users every month and a growing lock on the ad revenue that used to underpin most of the media industry. When it comes to threats to journalism, in other words, Facebook qualifies as one, whether it wants to admit it or not.
Facebook’s relationship with the media has been a classic Faustian bargain: News outlets want to reach those 2 billion users, so they put as much of their content as they can on the network. Some of them are favored by the company’s all-powerful (and completely mysterious) algorithm, giving them access to a wider audience to pitch for subscriptions or the pennies worth of ad revenue they receive from the platform.
But while many media outlets continue to pander to Facebook, even some of the digital-media entities that have catered to the company seem to be finding it hard going. The fact that even Facebook’s closest media partners like BuzzFeed are struggling financially highlights the most obvious threat: Since many media companies still rely on advertising revenue to support their journalism, Facebook’s increasing dominance of that industry poses an existential threat to their business models.
As Facebook increases its control, “they’ll decide which brands they are going to elevate and which they will filter out,” says Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia. “There’s an ethical view that this is a terrible state of affairs, since it means that Facebook effectively decides which media outlets survive and which don’t.”
Below is Colombia Journalism Review’s Podcast on the same topic, 22nd Feb 2018: