News that Facebook will clamp down on media, with plans to “rank” outlets by “trustworthiness” has many armchair and pro pundits in a meltdown. The move towards “suppression” or “promotion” has caused alarm among those of us who are passionate about free expression. While the government cannot legally control your speech, social media sites certainly can. That is their right.
I think CEO Mark Zuckerberg is actually creating opportunity.
Start with Zuckerberg’s conflict. Privacy issues came into question after we learned President Donald Trump’s campaign had used data from the social media giant in the 2016 election. It’s ironic those issues didn’t arise before this, because former President Barack Obama’s campaign also exploited Facebook data in 2012.
I’ve written before about our willingness to share all sorts of personal information on social media. I don’t know why it would surprise anyone that politicos from both sides of the aisle capitalize on that. I’ve often pointed out that without you and your content, the likes of Facebook and Twitter would have little to sell. No one twists our arm to make us confess or share personal info on social media.
What’s upsetting those right of center pundits, however, has to do with how Facebook will determine who is trustworthy. BuzzFeed News featured a story on the new Facebook policy. I consider BuzzFeed left of center. Here are some of the media outlets represented at a meeting described as “off the record” although Zuckerberg did answer some questions on the record:
“BuzzFeed News, the Information, Quartz, the New York Times, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, NBC, Recode, Univision, Barron’s, the Daily Beast, the Economist, HuffPost, Insider, the Atlantic, the New York Post, and others.”
Most of those named are left of center.
This is America. If Zuckerberg wants to feature news partial to one ideology, that’s his right as long as shareholders and the board permit him to do that.
Years ago as the Web began to find its way into US homes, most commenting and debating was done on indie blogs or listservs. There were also private groups where people with similar interests could congregate. Once social media began to be concentrated in a limited number of places, however, the era of the indie blog began to decline.
There’s a vast amount of opportunity here, in my opinion.
Indie blogs could draw audiences away from these massive social media pools. The trick is to brand yourself so that people come directly to you. Why? The age of freewheeling search is over. Search engines controlling the Web tend to favor sponsors because they buy advertising for top spots. Those engines also favor political and news sites in keeping with their politics.
There’s also a case to be made for listservs. In 2008 this was a key element in then-senator Barack Obama’s campaign, both in the primary (to beat Hillary Clinton) and in the general election against the hopelessly flawed senator John McCain. Hundreds of media workers and academics colluded via the listserv begun by a Washington Post blogger to ensure Obama received favorable coverage. One journalist even suggested branding media opponents of Obama as “racists.” Not because they really were, but because it might work as a tactic.
As for social media sites, there will always be opportunity for newcomers. When MySpace was popular, it was hard to believe it would fall from favor. Now it’s but a shard of its former self. Facebook and Twitter reign supreme right now, but where there’s a market, there’s opportunity. A social media network is a big undertaking, but it can, with the right investors, be done.
Although Facebook’s public admission it will suppress some while promoting others is troubling, the government is limited in its powers to do the same. At least Facebook users will now know the side of the aisle the company prefers. There’s that.
As long as the First Amendment holds strong when it comes to government powers (despite constant attempts to assault it), there is opportunity in media. Could print even make a comeback?
Who knows? We once thought vinyl records were gone forever.
(Kay B. Day/May 3, 2018)