Facebook: the emerging para-site

The seeds of your newspaper’s demise are being planted by Facebook.

In Oct. 2014, David Carr disclosed in the New York Times that Facebook had plans to host entire news stories from publications on its website, rather than just providing links to publishers’ sites. Stories would live inside Facebook and be hosted by its servers, accompanied by ads sold by Facebook.

Under such an arrangement, Facebook would decide what stories go on the site. It would become the news gatekeeper for millions of people and the relationship between news producers and their audience would be severed. News originators would get wider distribution of their content, but data gathered on users would be owned and used by Facebook, not the news creators. “Media companies would essentially be serfs in a kingdom that Facebook owns,” Carr wrote.

Or as I’d put it, Facebook would be a para-site, sucking the lifeblood out of other media and reaping most of the benefits in eyeballs, revenue and influence.

Facebook: the new para-site

Facebook: the new para-site

Numerous online news sites already provide access to news stories, but most have a symbiotic relationship, with the aggregator providing just headline teases and links to the originating publication. The aggregator, such as Google News, News360, and Drudge Report is doing no original reporting, while benefiting from advertising revenue, but the originator benefits from additional traffic.

Andy Mitchell, Facebook’s Director of News and Global Media Partnerships, said earlier this month that 30 percent of adults and 88 percent of millennials in the United States get news via Facebook each month. That makes Facebook one of the most powerful news distributors on the planet. If it starts displaying entire stories, it will not only be displaying news, but determining who will see content.

“Facebook is not, and knows quite well it is not, a neutral machine passing on news,” says George Brock, a British professor who writes on 21st century journalism.

As Jay Rosen, who comments on the media in his blog PressThink, notes, Facebook operates quite differently from a traditional news editor in that a carefully designed algorithm chooses what users see. “It’s not mimicking the trained judgment of experienced journalists. Instead, it’s processing a great variety of signals from users and recommending stories based on…maximizing time on site…The end-in-view isn’t an informed public or an entertained audience but a user base in constant contact with Facebook.”

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