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Scientists say a meteor hit the earth 66 million years ago and wiped out most dinosaurs.

Journalists know how they felt. A meteor crashed into our world in the 1990s.

The internet’s effect wasn’t immediate. Now, two decades on, most of my former colleagues work in other industries. The media companies that employed us have either gone or are shadows of what they once were.

After the apocalypse

A handful of us write on. At times it feels like life in post-apocalypse science fiction.

Some ex-journalists eke out a living in what remains of the media. A few adapted to the new conditions, new rules, new demands and disciplines [1].

A decade or so after the first meteor hit, a second one arrived. Facebook threatens to kill off what’s left of the independent media.

The Empire strikes back

The cover story of this week’s The Economist nails it: Facebook is an empire. That’s no metaphor. Facebook’s power and reach rivals that of the USA.

Facebook has more inhabitants than China. It owns more souls than any religion. It makes more money than almost anything. It knows more about you than the CIA or any other spy agency in history.

The numbers are daunting. Facebook has 1.6 billion users. The Economist says around a billion of them use Facebook every day. On average they each spend 20 minutes at the site.

As a result Facebook is the sixth largest company in the world. And it continues to grow. Founder Mark Zuckerberg isn’t done yet.

Facebook is impressive. It appeared almost overnight. It innovates, takes risks and adapts to external changes at internet-speed.

Welcome to the new internet, not like the old internet

In some third world countries Facebook is, in effect, the internet. It controls the networks delivering services to users.

Facebook wants to have the same dominance elsewhere. The business is spreading into entertainment, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. There has never been a walled garden like this before.

Because Facebook knows so much about you and everyone else, it can target advertising with precision. This makes it valuable to advertisers.

Today Facebook is only second to Google in delivering online advertising. Together the two companies account for half of all mobile advertising. Their share is growing.

Advertising

Advertising is the media industry’s oxygen. With Facebook and Google sucking up an ever larger share, there is less, far less, left for publishers. And that means less to pay for journalists. In turn that means fewer valuable stories, less information, a less informed public.

Many media companies stopped fighting cat Gifs and click-bait. Instead they fill their channels with their own junk content in an attempt to protect market share.

Last year Facebook moved directly into the media space by launching Instant Articles. It is a technique to push out content faster. Instant Articles means media companies have to play ball with Facebook to make it work. That means sharing the thin advertising gruel with the online giant.

Media response

Many publishers have, in effect, yielded to Facebook. They are no longer masters of their own destiny. That’s risky, Facebook has its own agenda. It changes policy and strategy overnight. It does what it damn well pleases. It has never been a good partner.

Another risk is that Facebook acts as a censor. It has a prim approach that plays well with America’s mid-west, but doesn’t translate to other cultures. It gets to decide what is and isn’t allowed. Far right and extreme left views may not be acceptable. Conservative social opinions may not be tolerated.

Whether you agree with the censorship decisions or not, this leads to bland, homogenised media. It could mean important new ideas don’t get a proper hearing. It could send dangerous ideas further underground.

Until now, freedom of expression has always been a given online. That could go.

Not my friend

Facebook has a low reputation for trustworthiness by big company standards, mainly because it makes money from selling personal data to advertisers. It changes its own rules to suit its needs. Overnight private data can be made public. This is not the best organisation to filter and distribute news or other timely information.

It’s hard to avoid Facebook. But we need to stay wary and critical. I post my story links to Facebook, not being there isn’t a practical option. I wish it was. Perhaps even thinking that way makes me a dinosaur. If so, it’s a badge I wear with pride.


  1. If you need someone to write for your website get in touch.  ↩

22 thoughts on “Media should unfriend Facebook

  1. I dislike Facebook as much as you, but I think this is wrong:

    mainly because it makes money from selling personal data to advertisers.

    Facebook doesn’t sell people’s personal data to advertisers, and in fact they have a strong incentive to do the opposite. If they sold the data to the advertisers then they wouldn’t be needed anymore. Facebook sells targeted user attention to advertisers. This may feel like arguing about semantics, but I think there is a big difference between the two.

    • That’s an interesting point. Your form of words is how Facebook publicaly describes what it does, but that’s not what people think it does. The (relatively) low reputation is based on what people think.

      Facebook only has itself to blame for this because of the way it keeps changing the terms of use and also because it is seen to place commercial interests over individual privacy.

  2. I have little sympathy for so-called journalists today who are still with dinosaur media organisations like the Herald and Stuff and the TV media outlets.

    They are almost without exception under-educated (despite perhaps having a so-called journalism degree), unable or unwilling to do any serious investigative work, unwilling or unable to ask the HARD questions and seem more interested in pushing an opinion or their own agenda than the facts. Much of their ‘investigative’ work consists of trawling through social media and other news sites…

    Oh, for the good old days when journalists would actually present a fact-based article/item from which the reader/listener/viewer could draw their own conclusion!!! I don’t want to hear ‘stories and innuendo’ based on the reporter’s opinion. I am intelligent enough to make up my own mind if I am given the facts.

    It’s no wonder that journalists are at the bottom of the list of trusted ‘professionals’ in New Zealand, below even politicians!!!

    But given the above, it’s perhaps unsurprising that they can’t understand why that may be….

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for taking time to comment.

      In effect what you see (and don’t like) is the direct effect of there being no money in the media. Many of the younger journalists don’t have the luxury of researching, fact-finding, digging etc. They’re not encouraged to do that by managers who need quantity, not quality.

      Sure, it shouldn’t be that way. I don’t like any more that you do. In fact it has hurt my personal finances.

      I’ve written in the past about the trend of ‘churnalism’ see http://billbennett.co.nz/2008/08/25/without-fear-or-favour-the-australian/

  3. “And that means less to pay for journalists. In turn that means fewer valuable stories, less information, a less informed public.”

    Well no. It is a differently informed public. And Facebook and Google have their role to play in this. At least as far as economics is concerned what passes for journalism in New Zealand is petty crap. If you want to be well informed don’t look to journalists, turn to the blogs. The standard of analysis on blogs like Offsetting Behaviour, TVHE, Economics New Zealand, Croaking Cassandra etc is far better than anything you will get from a New Zealand journalist. I would argue that the brave new world of internet comment and analysis is an improvement over the old media. If the new Facebook world is one without journalists I’m not sure that’s all bad.

    • Maybe. But that analysis is written by economists for economists.

      It’s often not accessible or relevant to everyday readers. Much of the time it doesn’t provide them with what they need to know, nor are concepts always fully explained.

      And those everyday readers often don’t have the expertise to know a plausible sounding charlatan from a real economist.

      You also don’t get casual traffic. Back in the day a marginally interested reader could pick up a newspaper to read other material, then between the cartoons and the sports pages happen on a well written, well thought out economics story and come away more enlightened. I doubt happens with these blogs.

      Old style new media wasn’t perfect, but it did a good job of filtering, sorting, distributing, interpreting and explaining.

      Sure, economists might now be better informed, which is not a bad thing, but what about the rest of us?

      • The difference between a plausible sounding charlatan and a real economist is merely whether or not they have a degree in economics, they are still the same net effect on the economy. 🙂

      • “It would be interesting to compare the published predictions of newspaper economics pundits and ‘real’ economists.”

        Why do you think prediction is relevant? 99% of economics has nothing to do with prediction .

        • True. But then there’s this from the Financial Times:

          “In the 2001 issue of the International Journal of Forecasting, an economist from the International Monetary Fund, Prakash Loungani, published a survey of the accuracy of economic forecasts throughout the 1990s. He reached two conclusions. The first was that forecasts are all much the same. There was little to choose between those produced by the IMF and the World Bank, and those from private sector forecasters. The second conclusion was that the predictive record of economists was terrible. Loungani wrote: “The record of failure to predict recessions is virtually unblemished.”

          http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/14e323ee-e602-11e3-aeef-00144feabdc0.html

      • Trust me the blog stuff isn’t written by economists for economists. You should see just how bad things can get when economists do write just for other economists!! May be understanding things take a bit more time and effort but its worth it.Often the subtleties and nuances are important and these can be missed by journalists.

  4. Facebook is big, so is Google, Apple, Amazon et al. I think the term Empire has a connotation that there can be only one, and yet we know there are many 20 minute periods in a day…

    We’re living in a very volatile time, where the institutions of centuries, “Newspapers have always been the primary medium of journalists since 1700,” can suffer significant inroads to their significance in just a couple of decades. Equally, empires of a billion users can be built in less time than that.

    The facilitators of this rapid, winner takes all, and possibly ephemeral growth are well known. Ideas move fast, the only thing slowing them these days are not the cost of testing, developing and distributing them, but the limits of people to adopt and adapt to them. That is not occurring as fast.

    It thus introduces a new scale. Investing we seek “Unicorns,” in music poly-graph.co /billion/

    What the last link show is how quickly something that good (the site) can be erected and distribute information that useful (to some). And then there’s the views. A billion dollar market cap, or a video seen by a billion or even a Facebook is novel, but may not be a big thing long term.

    Global scale success is easier, maintaining it, not so sure.

    We’ll see what lasts eh?

    • I have no doubt these things are fleeting on the grand scale. Not so long ago MySpace looked invincible and then when Rupert Murdoch acquired the business there was panic.

      None of this makes Facebook less of a threat. In the long term we’re all dead anyway. For now, it’s either submit or resist.

  5. “True. But then there’s this from the Financial Times:”

    Which is the 1%, and part of the reason other economists have little time for forecasting.

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