Pando

In an attempt to increase its influence over the media, Facebook makes publishers an offer they should refuse

By Nathaniel Mott , written on October 27, 2014

From The News Desk

Last week, I wrote that all the handwringing over Facebook's influence on the media distracts from the amount of control Google holds over the world's information, allowing the company to continue its efforts to manipulate the press and assert control over the media without protest.

Now that criticism of Facebook seems a little more appropriate. The New York Times reports that Facebook has approached publishers with a proposal to send stories directly to its service, allowing them to be saved to Facebook's servers, shown next to Facebook's ads, and read in Facebook's applications.

Facebook's power to drive traffic makes such partnerships seem like no-brainers. Consumers are already finding news through the service, reading it through its mobile application's built-in browser, and helping the story reach others on the social network. Why not strengthen the relationship?

David Carr, the Times media writer who broke the news of these talks, might have an answer:

That kind of wholesale transfer of content sends a cold, dark chill down the collective spine of publishers, both traditional and digital insurgents alike. If Facebook’s mobile app hosted publishers’ pages, the relationship with customers, most of the data about what they did and the reading experience would all belong to the platform. Media companies would essentially be serfs in a kingdom that Facebook owns.

Such relationships would be even more worrisome than publishers' attempts to chase Likes, or Google's control over how information is found online. It's one thing to trust a company to keep an index of Web pages; it's another thing entirely to trust one with the content of those pages. (Besides, it's not like publishers would even consider such an arrangement with, say, Google+.)

I concluded last week's post with the following:

Facebook’s effect on the media is worth criticizing. But it shouldn’t be the only tech company mentioned whenever someone wants to complain about the media pandering to one algorithm or another — and it certainly shouldn’t be seen as more dangerous than Google, which has been actively manipulating the press to further its own goals instead of merely acting as a conduit through which people discover news articles. Facebook might be bad, but Google is even worse.

That last sentence will have to be revised if any publishers take Facebook up on its offer. Facebook as it exists now has a notable effect on the way news is discovered, read, and shared, but it pales in comparison to Google's control over how so much information is found online. That will change if Facebook succeeds with this program, though, and not for the better.

I, for one, would prefer not to live in Facebook's kingdom.

[illustration by Hallie Bateman]