Mark Zuckerberg and the team at Facebook have decided to implement a ‘News’ tab into their site. The plan is to pay publications an agreed sum of money to have their news articles on the ‘News’ tab in exchange for what is effectively a shameless marketing plug, for Facebook and its services. I have always had issues with the seemingly deliberate blurring of lines between platforms and editors, which you can read about in my first ever post, Youtube’s channel assault – Examining the angles (Facebook isn’t the only content site that can do shameless plugs). Platforms have always had a defence of being a platform, so this could be a problem for Facebook going into the publishing business. This could have ramifications on the audience as well. Could the issues encountered by other platforms be exacerbated with Facebook’s massive audience? Could that affect the direction of politics?
The slimy tactic of social media platforms
For those of you who don’t know my position on social media platforms acting as editors, I will elaborate on why the platform could be in for some trouble. Facebook, Twitter and Youtube all have one thing in common, they are all platforms. This means users can set up accounts, push out content, acquire a following and build a name for themselves and have a high level of freedom of expression afforded to them. Not so long ago, Twitter and Youtube came under fire for the demonetisation and banning of prominent political figureheads on these platforms. My big issue with platforms, at the time was the deliberate blurring of the lines between editor and platform for its own gain. When you pre-select what content is going to do well, what content will not be shown, the visibility of an individual’s or company’s content to a wider audience and what is politically acceptable, you are an editor. This doesn’t sound like a huge problem but when you look at the rules and regulations regarding things like defamation law and correct journalism practices, this are all concerns of editors, not platforms. These platforms, in question, were (and still are) able to mitigate potential lawsuits by claiming a lack of responsibility for the content, which is something that only platforms can do.
The effects of Facebook’s plan
Facebook’s plan is interesting because of one interesting feature about the ‘News’ tab. The news tab will only feature ‘reputable’ content and will be ‘curated in part’ by editors. Facebook, it seems, has become a publication, if this is the case, will Facebook as a platform be forced to give up its platform based privileges? The issue comes with ‘reputable’ content and what curations they make. The issues will arise if the curation team, at Facebook, decide to follow on with traditional media virtue-signalling agenda. The question is, could they become a force to be reckoned with in the political sphere? With a user base of 2.41 million active monthly users, according to statista, could they swing political agenda? By targeting political opinions with whom they disagree with, if they choose to do that, could have a horribly partisan impact on our politics. It could also be good for news if they choose to take a more centrist approach and allow a healthy plethora of left-wing and conservative publications onto its news section. It is definitely a development to watch.
But how could this hurt Facebook? By pursuing this option, they have now lost a platforms most valuable defence, which is platform. Facebook could see themselves under fire for how they decide to edit mainstream news and for the recruited publishers they choose to work. There is a strong possibility that we can see. With possibly the biggest reach, world wide, of every other platform they can be very influential. If Facebook also decide to follow the recent trend of clamping down on right-wing conservative sites, it could give rise to Facebook being a serious player in dictating the news outlets agenda on a global stage.