One of the many declarations, updates and statements made by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the company’s recent F8 developer conference included him saying he didn’t believe it made sense for Facebook to pay media companies some kind of fee in exchange for those media organizations posting their content there. The idea has been floated by various folks with increasing frequency in light of how much Facebook has siphoned off ad revenue from media brands.
Further, Zuckerberg said the following: “People come to Facebook primarily not to consume news but to communicate with people.”
Not only does that kind of statement contradict years worth of focus and other comments from company executives, it completely undermines all the outreach Facebook has made to media companies over time. At first it sold news organizations on the idea that they could connect directly with a huge number of readers/viewers by sharing stories on the platform. So efforts were made to build up huge networks of fans on Facebook, hoping to bring in an audience.
Even when the filtered News Feed was introduced, Facebook kept telling media companies it was an ally, not a competitor or enemy. It enlisted one organization after another to test Live Video, Instant Articles, subscription boosters and other initiatives, all under the guise of wanting to support news. These were new ways of reaching the audience, they were told, so give them a try. Time after time, though, it turned out Facebook was really only using these companies as guinea pigs to try out new features that later were turned around in efforts to siphon off even more ad revenue to Facebook itself, which was now armed with valuable user behavior data.
It also makes me wonder what the real point has been of the various initiatives Facebook has undertaken to weed out fake and untrustworthy news. If people aren’t coming to Facebook for news, then what does the company care if what’s being shared there is accurate or not? Was all of this just theater to manage a public relations crisis? Why have the changes put in place disproportionately benefited conservative (and often wholly inaccurate) news sources?
Finally, one has to wonder why any media company would ever again consider Facebook as a viable news distribution platform, much less an entity with which to partner on new products. If Facebook as a company sees little demand for news and isn’t willing to help in any real way the industry that produces that news, what’s the upside for participating at all?
I know there’s really no way for media companies to actually get off the Facebook hamster wheel. Even if one company were to declare they were abandoning the platform completely, others would simply take advantage of the hole left in the wall. Heck, Facebook would probably change its News Feed system to help those remaining see a temporary lift as a “thank you” for staying, just to stick it to the one that left.
Zuckerberg made the same mistake other conservative leaders have in the last couple years. Freed from the shackles imposed on them by a critical press or other constituents, they felt comfortable saying the quiet part out loud. In doing so he put the final nail in the coffin of anyone viewing Facebook as a viable platform on which they, as a brand or company, can communicate with the audience that was promised to them a decade ago.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.