What the growth of Facebook means to journalism…

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, published a declaration article titled ‘Building a Global Community’ in February this year to outline long-term development plans for his world’s biggest social media platform. It seemed as if the manifesto was written in response to the recent criticism against Facebook that the social networking site has been partially responsible for fake news and the rise of populism in Europe and America. This long declaration indicated that Zuckerberg is now trying to become the world leader of humanitarianism. Based on the belief that most of today’s issues facing humanity require global responses, Zuckerberg writes:

‘In times like these, the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us’.

Zuckerberg outlines five key sections that need to be achieved in order for Facebook to become a global community in the next few decades:

  1. Supportive Community – Following the declining participation in traditional institutions such as local communities, Facebook is going to revitalise these important social infrastructure.
  2. Safe Community – Facebook is going to help people avoid harm and danger and offers support in the time of crisis for restoration.
  3. Informed Community – Facebook is going to achieve a society in which anyone can express his/her opinions while exposing themselves to new ideas to accelerate mutual understandings.
  4. Civically-engaged Community – Facebook is going to encourage civic participation in order to alter the situation in which only half the population participates in elections.
  5. Inclusive Community – Facebook is going to achieve an inclusive society, which is based on shared values and humanitarianism, transcending the differences in cultures and nations.

 

Optimism

Following this manifesto, as a user of Facebook, I’m now looking forward to seeing a further technical improvement on the platform as well as provision of new, convenient services. For example, as shown in the video below, Facebook can help people meet others who might share the same problem and establish social networks for mutual support to overcome various issues together. I expect that the development in the analytic quality, including AI can improve the accuracy of group recommendations as well as leading to many other functional improvements.

 

Pessimism

Having said that, I’m very concerned about the future of journalism given that Google and Facebook enjoy extreme domination over the digital advertising industry. When you consider the striking fact that Facebook generated a total profit of 8 billion dollars over the past 4 years, you can’t expect what the future financial devastation will be for journalism.

Following the rapid digitalisation of advertising industry, the revenue stream for journalism has been hugely damaged and the past decade saw closures of a number local newspapers. One of the important roles that used to be, and still are played by local media is to function as a social infrastructure that enables a supportive, safe, informed, civically-engaged and inclusive community, which is exactly what Facebook is now proposing to achieve.

If existing local media continue disappearing due to a growing number of people relying on Facebook instead for the provision of information, who will be a watchdog of the local authority and who will carry out investigative reporting? Unfortunately, I don’t think such question was adequately addressed in the letter from Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook has been testing various ways to coexist with journalism, but it still feels likely that local media will continue to vanish unless they make effective changes in their business model. Zuckerberg is not obliged to solve these issues for journalism, but given his excessive financial capability, his cooperation will be urgently necessary for media organisations. In other words, He’s the one who can destroy journalism, but he’s also the one who can save it.

 

photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/27620885@N02/5262946223

 

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