Facebook getting more involved in journalism is still a bad idea

Do we really want to turn Facebook into an editorial beast?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Emily Bell wrote a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review, arguing against her former colleague James Ball's assertion that Facebook (and Google) investing in journalism is a bad thing. (I agreed with his take):

Yet the argument that technology companies should be separate from journalism, however ethically right, is increasingly theoretical. In practice, that horse has not just bolted from the stable, it has run the Kentucky Derby and returned to the yard puffing and sweating.

Her argument, however pragmatically correct, does not make for comfortable reading. For example:

The willingness to develop a higher standard for user-generated content is now universal among technology platforms that promote its creation and recirculation. No technology company is saying they will employ fewer ways of editing and moderating speech and other material that flows through their networks.

I actually find this paragraph chilling on a number of levels:

  • That "higher standard for user-generated content" is increasingly translating to "give an advantage to big, established media companies". I had yet another session last week where all the representatives from the small media companies present had lost perks like instant articles. As long as Facebook remains a gateway to readers, this is essentially preserving the position of incumbents and making life harder for insurgent media. Given the layoffs of the last week - that's worrying.
  • Facebook has shown itself to be a deeply untrustworthy and self-serving company. Do we really want it taking a more active role over the news people receive? What if negative stories about Facebook suddenly, mysteriously started getting less traction in the newsfeed? Would anyone put that past Facebook?

We really need to be very careful what we wish for with Facebook - because we might just get it.


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.