Is Zuckerberg killing journalism? A response to his ‘Building Global Community’ letter

Facebook CEO and founder, Mark Zuckerberg has connected friends and families across the globe for the past decade and now wants to connect everything in a bid to bring humanity closer together, with the objective of making the world a better place.

In February 2017, Zuckerberg published an almost 6,000 word letter to his Facebook page, offering an ambitious vision for Facebook’s global role. He acknowledged the mistakes that have been made by the social media giant and reflected on where Facebook is headed, extending its moves far beyond status updates and photo sharing.  Zuckerberg stated in his letter:

“Today we are close to taking our next step. Our greatest opportunities are now global – like spreading prosperity and freedom, promoting peace and understanding, lifting people out of poverty, and accelerating science. Our greatest challenges also need global responses — like ending terrorism, fighting climate change, and preventing pandemics. Progress now requires humanity coming together not just as cities or nations, but also as a global community”.

In particular, Zuckerberg outlined five domains of focus that would contribute to developing the social infrastructure of our community. These included making communities “supportive“, “safe“, “informed“, “civically engaged” and “inclusive“. Such declaration of principles have the potential to help restore trust in the news information delivered on digital platforms, in which Zuckerberg declared as “critical to building an informed community”. He added, “giving people a voice is not enough without having people dedicated to uncovering new information and analysing it.”

However, his aspirations for Facebook merely describe building a media company with fundamental journalistic goals. He understands the importance of news organisations providing the basis for public action by building and strengthening community ties, stating in his manifesto: “reading local news is directly correlated with civic engagement”. Yet his letter is ignorant to the role that Facebook and other technology platforms are playing in inadvertently damaging local news media, and to the one way they could actually save journalism: with a massive philanthropic commitment.

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Facebook is already an existing threat to print media

Facebook’s existing threat to journalism is well established, in part because local news’ business models have collapsed. As advertising spending shifted from print, TV and radio to the internet, the money did not mostly go to digital news organisations, but increasingly it goes to Facebook and Google. Facebook is much better at community building in the digital age than news organisations are, putting them at an advantage. Users willingness to pour endless personal information about themselves into Facebook allows the site to sell targeted advertising around them, making social media platforms appealing to businesses, whilst also saving businesses massive amounts of money, is a privilege newspapers cannot compete with.

Consequently, newsrooms have been decimated, with basic accountability reporting slashed as a result. Combining this with the repackaging of news online, whereby clickbait allows the function of building a news organisation without journalists, making news bias and not fit to serve its purpose. Journalism still requires a contextual search for truth, yet this process of destruction will put an end to journalism as we know it.

It is not Zuckerberg’s responsibility to solve journalism’s broken business model, but it could be argued that he has a moral imperative to do so given his position of power. With the money, the know-how and the obligation, maybe it is time for the disrupters to solve the problem’s journalism is facing; to create the nuanced world we want for generations to come.

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