It’s a little difficult to tea-leaf the precise motivations of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in creating agreements with news outlets that will ultimately inject millions of dollars into those failing businesses.
Social media, specifically Facebook, has eviscerated advertising revenues in traditional media outlets, particularly newspapers. Craig’s List had already drained the classified advertising revenue from newspapers and Facebook led the way in sucking gobs of display advertising away from the papers — not to mention their own marketplace taking share away from Craig’s list.
In response, newspapers have been dinosauric in their business model response, but quick to vilify Facebook for destroying the plodding business model of the venerable Fourth Estate. Of course, they never look in the mirror to see that part of the loss can be attributed to the incredibly low trust level they now earn, particularly since being unmasked as raw Democrat partisans in the age of Trump.
Further, they’ve also led the way in attacking Facebook and Zuckerberg for allowing Russian bots to “influence” the 2016 election for Trump — which of course they did not, as all reasonable people know the relative pennies spent were meaningless. But newspapers are no longer reasonable organizations, at least when it comes to covering national politics.
So it’s certainly possible that Zuckerberg is simply trying to purchase their quiet, by creating a system where they will get a share of revenue from readers consuming their content on or through Facebook. That might be too cynical. He may accept the need for a vibrant media and not recognize it is not an honest one. A combination of these motives seems the most likely.
Even Vox notes this: “Facebook News helps Facebook not by generating revenue but by making other newspapers happy.”
Maybe more importantly for our purposes, however, these beknighted newspapers will now enjoy most favored media status on Facebook, meaning they will be part of the new Facebook News tab.
This is another cannonball to the hull of conservative media outlets trying not to be sunk to the billions of eyes on Facebook. Facebook, and even more so Twitter and Youtube, have worked to marginalize conservative outlets and individuals through shadow-banning, outright banning, disallowing ads, hiding posts and generally de-platforming. It’s one, long uphill battle because of the clear progressive Democrat orientation of Silicon Valley and the instinct of the progressive to shut down disagreeable speech.
But this new arrangement makes life even harder for conservative outlets. When Zuckerberg announced the move recently, there was literal applause from the media. My inference: the applause from media executives was about the money; the applause from the journalists was about a step toward the return of sole information proprietorship they once enjoyed.
Zuckerberg explained that Facebook will pay “partners” from a variety of mainstream outlets from traditional media outlets including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, CNN, Bloomberg and the alphabet soup news networks to such egregiously online-only leftist outfits as Buzzfeed and Business Insider to publish their content. The list will also include large metro area news outlets, such as the Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe and so on — which of course are all the same people. Geographic diversity, worldview unanimity.
Not surprisingly, the list includes Fox News (Rupert Murdoch has been pushing hard for this) but interestingly, it also includes Breitbart — which caused howls of derision among the media gatekeepers, claiming Breitbart is “known for pushing white nationalist talking points, conspiracy theories, and polarizing political content of dubious quality.” Pretty easy prediction: Breitbart won’t stay on the list because, as mentioned above, the progressive instinctively wants to block speech with which they disagree.
Facebook has refused to release the full list. So it’s not clear there are any other right-leaning outlets such as the Washington Examiner, New York Post, Daily Caller and Daily Wire. But it means Facebook will be shoveling money and eyeballs towards some media and not others.
While this is yet another pathway for shunting conservative news and commentary outlets, this avenue would also seem to pose a threat to Facebook. By picking and choosing certain news sources, giving them a special platform and creating a fiduciary relationship with them, the social media company may well be more vulnerable to the charge of being a publisher, and not just a platform. Such a designation change would be catastrophic for Facebook.
But by appeasing the media, it may take some of the political heat off the publishing charge, allowing Facebook to continue doing business with its 1.6 billion daily users and hundreds of thousands of advertisers.
In Facebook’s media deal, Facebook wins, mainstream media wins. Conservative media, not so clear, but the red flags are everywhere.
Rod Thomson is an author, past Salem radio host, ABC TV commentator, former journalist and is Founder of The Revolutionary Act.
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