Why Facebook will become a public media company in the near future…

It hasn’t been a good election for Facebook.

Some months ago they faced accusations of bias against Conservatives, then got caught spreading fake news after they replaced their human editors with an algorithm.

And after the results, were accused of having (possibly unduly) influenced the result by being an easy way to spread fake news and generate echo chambers. Indeed, WIRED even have an article noting that Facebook’s real influence wasn’t in fake news as such, but in making it easy to drum up support and payments.

Google have come out hitting against echo chambers and hoaxes, looking for ways to banhammer fake news sites.. Facebook has followed suit. And yet Mark Zuckerberg has still resisted the label of being a media company, sticking with the original ideals that Facebook is a social connector and aggregator to deliver what people are looking for, objectively.

But what if people are looking for fake news? This is the problem they face at the moment. Facebook is at risk of being a distribution company – a logistics carrier of content. Not a creator, not a curator, but a blind carrier. And like every blunt force carrier company, they become susceptible to smuggling or the manipulation of their logistics methods to carry harmful goods. This is the potential pitfall that the postal services live with every day, to deliver ‘what the customer is looking for’. So again:

What if people want fake news? Will Facebook ban The Onion? Celebrity gossip?

By banning fake news sites, Facebook is already taking an editorial world view. They already fell into this trap recently when they banned, then reversed the ban on the famous ‘Napalm Girl’ photo from the Vietnam War.

I happen to think, and have for a while, that Facebook is a media organisation.

I also happen to believe that in about 18 months that – no matter how much they try to avoid it – Facebook will be in the midst of a purchase of a traditional media organisation. It will likely be US based, and in a stable state capital with a reliable audience (although how fascinating would it be if they tried this in the UK or mainland Europe) that is both diverse and accessibly for the purposes of influence and engagement. This purchase will be driven by Facebook’s desire to change the world for the better – by being a civic society-level influencer.

 

I dare say that the concept would have already come up at some level in Facebook’s boardrooms, and been rejected for the very reasons that Facebook continually denies its destiny – they see themselves as audience first, providing what the consumers are looking for through algorithmic choice.

Funny enough, that’s EXACTLY what media companies in the world are trying to achieve even while trying to avoid their own inevitablities to become more like Facebook. You can see where I’ve gone with this.

So one thing is: should Facebook embrace its destiny in media? What’s wrong with being a neutral organisation? I happen to think that it’s a good thing if an organisation HAS a stance on subjects, especially ones where it plays an active role. Besides the argument over whether we can even ignore our natural biases, these exist, and an organisation can either try to suppress it or live with it and use it as a point of difference and discussion. The nature of a private company is to be driven by a personalised world view.

But why male models?

18 months? After 12 months we’ll have a good idea about where the new Presidency is heading, and even more important – the impact on liberal influence and the resurgence of neo-traditional conservatism as the leading American world view.
In addition, if there’s a push to levy media intermediaries as outlined on The Verge, this will help push Facebook over the proverbial edge.

In other words, something will happen in the next 18 months that will force Facebook understand it’s place in the media landscape, as well as its place as a massive conglomerate within the American social and civic landscape. Importantly, this will coalesce through Zuckerberg’s personal interest in funding social, cultural and other life improvements as a young visionary and influencer, as do many of the executives.

What then happens, is that Facebook will evaluate itself and its revenue streams. On one side they could accept a diversion of revenue towards this potential ‘aggregator tax’ being mooted. This will likely be tens to hundreds of millions – significant, but not overwhelming.

More importantly, I believe that they’ll see this as a changing, more ideologically challenging landscape as they undergo more scrutiny about their role in changed world views.

A traditional media purchase will give Facebook greater access to legitimised, authoritative content, and also leverage the access it ALREADY has to both professional and citizen journalists who syndicate their work through Facebook. Note that the language here is changing from finding/sharing to the more traditional syndication model. Syndication payment models will then allow Facebook to build a deeper news and curation model, and offer legitimacy through traditional media.

More so, traditional media will then allow Facebook to become a stronger creator – this is a field it’s already playing in with its media partnerships and publishers on the platform. These are all fields that Facebook is already playing in, whether it chose to or not.

Lastly, and this is where the ideology will drive them – I believe that Facebook will choose to become an active influencer. This will have to form something outside their network, and a traditional format will legitimise their desire to change society for the better (whatever that will mean) and influence social change.

That Facebook has influenced and changed our connectivity is already well established. Their claim that they are providing relevance and content that users are looking for just confirms this stance. The vast majority of media companies, especially consumer ones, already have this approach. And already know and understand how much they influence reader habits.

Even as much as Facebook waxes lyrical about how it has transformed our ability to connect and share, it has resisted its own transformation. It’s not a sharing platform – it’s an influencer platform. It’s not somewhere that people go to FIND news, it’s where news is delivered to them. And it’s also developing an actualised belief system and world view, despite claims of neutrality.
Welcome to the club, Facebook. Welcome to the transformation of media.

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