Facebook came up with glowing new products like Newsfeed, Instant Articles, and Facebook Live, providing silly advice for thriving on the platform (“Play on emotion, folks, users love it! — Hem, this might be difficult, we are business news providers…”). Facebook promised a deluge of eyeballs. Caught in the headlights, deer-like publishers silenced their mental warning that said to look deeper, and gave up loads of content in exchange for nearly nothing.
For Facebook, journalism has been a pain in the neck from day one. Now, bogged down with the insoluble problems of fake news and bad PR, it’s clear that Facebook will gradually pull the plug on news. Publishers should stop whining and move on.
Let’s admit that publishers have been screwed by Facebook. Not because Mark Zuckerberg is evil, but because he’s a pragmatist. His latest move should not come as a surprise. On Thursday, for the second time in six months, Facebook stated publicly that news (i.e., journalism) will appear further down in everyone’s newsfeed, in order to favor posts from friends, family and “groups.” Here is how Zuck defended the move:
“The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being. We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos — even if they’re entertaining or informative — may not be as good. Based on this, we’re making a major change to how we build Facebook. I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions”.
Consider us notified. Facebook is done with journalism. It will happen, slowly, gradually, but the trend is here. In this context, the email sent yesterday by Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships, who states “news remains a top priority for us,” rings hollow.
Viewed from its perspective, Facebook has all the reasons in the world to get rid of journalism:
• As acknowledged several times by Mark Zuckerberg, news doesn’t share well, compared to friends and family posts, while the entire Facebook model is based on the speed of sharing, multiplied by its two billion users, and coupled to an unparalleled knowledge of each one.
• Maintaining a large newsfeed presence of information could become expensive for Facebook. A few weeks ago, Mark Zuckerberg hinted that profits might be affected by the cost of hiring thousands of human moderators to fight misinformation. It is unclear whether FB will forgo this idea (most likely, it will hire some of them…)
• News has turned into a PR nightmare for Facebook. Fires erupted constantly, and they were hard to contain, as with the outrage triggered by the deletion of the Napalm Girl photograph from the Norwegian daily Aftenposten, to name just one incident.
• Most of the time, news is inherently dark, and Facebook wants to promote a positive view of society, fearing that gloom translates into disaffection. (This idea is highly disputable: Netflix original creations, for instance, are filled with scores of grim series that viewers love.)
• News doesn’t have a palatable business model for Facebook. We covered this already: