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Is Facebook pulling out of the news biz?

Mark Zuckerberg has decided to move Facebook in a new direction. “The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being,” he says. “On the other hand,” he continues in the treacly prose that Facebook is so good at, “passively reading articles or watching videos — even if they’re entertaining or informative — may not be as good.” So, a “major change” is in the works. “I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.”

According to the weighty Columbia Journalism Review, this means that “Facebook is done with journalism. It will happen, slowly, gradually, but the trend is here.”

This has all kinds of implications, some not yet clear.

  • There will be less actual informative content, with yet more family pics and (generally mindless) “comments” – because “shares” and “likes” are what drives the Facebook business model.
  • It’s really bad news for news organisations that have been striving to use Facebook to build readership. We blogged back before Christmas about Facebook’s decision to mess with news feeds in six small countries by way of an experiment – with disastrous consequences for journalism in those states. That experiment now takes on new significance.
  • On the other hand, this may be really good news, longer term, for journalism worldwide, if Facebook is no longer competing with every news outlet on a march toward being the world’s ultimate news provider.

We may also doubt that the reason for the change is the sudden arrival on Mark Zuckerberg’s desk of “research” showing that people prefer pictures of their grandchildren to “news.” Perhaps the fight against “fake news” – which the company has said could hit pr0fits because it requires the hiring of thousands of humans – will be cheaper if there’s simply less news of all kinds.

Zuck declared a few days ago that his big goal in 2018 was to fix Facebook. This looks like the first installment.

For a great discussion of what all this may mean, check out journalism guru Frederic Filloux’s Monday Note blog.

Of course, it’s also a reminder that execs sitting in their offices at Facebook HQ can flick a switch and make enormous changes…

  • that affect the lives of more than two billion people…
  • that can reshape whole industries, like news and journalism…
  • and that can radically alter how politicians can campaign…

If Facebook continues to grow – what will it have the power to do in five, ten or fifteen years?

Also on the power of Facebook...

An open letter to the guy with two billion Facebook friends - and an eye on the White House

By Nigel Cameron