This is the third of ten themes in Nigel Cameron’s open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, exploring obstacles to him seeking the US presidency. Click here for whole series.
We can’t blame you for the internet and every way in which it has devastated traditional journalism – though the fact that we have around half the number of professional journalists than a generation ago1 should keep all of us awake some nights. But if you want to be leader of the free world you need to be chief cheerleader for a free press – and you need to acknowledge how your huge and growing share of the online advertising market is killing more of the media outlets who actually do proper journalism.
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More than 40% of Americans are reported to go to Facebook to get their news. Together with Google, you now control two thirds of online advertising2, and continue to squeeze traditional media who depend on selling ads to stay in business – and, of course, who do the reporting.
Three quick ideas for you:
- Serious3 investment in journalism: what about a big initiative to partner with local and international papers to train new recruits, to foster journalism on both sides of the digital/analogue divide? Maybe your friends at Google could be persuaded to go halves? Plainly it would need to be done blind (although you could think about addressing under-reporting of, eg, the poorer southern hemisphere). Otherwise, if you are involved in determining who gets money, it would be seen as just another Facebook move into the news space. You do, after all, have controversial form in this area4.
- Second, there’s “fake news,” and the shocking news – which you have just confirmed – that hundreds of Russian-linked accounts placed highly-targeted ads during the election campaign. Quite apart from the general “fake news” stories that Russia and other used to sway opinion. (See section seven for more on the Russian connection.)
- And third: some people are worried that, if you run for President, Facebook could play the part of the Zuckerberg cheerleader, as Fox lined up for Trump. If that’s not the plan, we need to know how this is going to work. Perhaps a high-level panel of independent journalists should be given editorial control of the site as soon as you decide you are going to run? Since you’re already rumoured to be running, something of that kind could not start too soon.