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, many former journalists work in other industries. The media companies that employed them have either gone or are shadows of what they once were.
After the apocalypse
A handful 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.
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. The social network’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. There are 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 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.
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.
Facebook 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.
Facebook not 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 there, not being on the site 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.