The Facebook empire of 1.4 billion users just conquered new territory, unrolling a “partnership” to host articles from some of the most well-known news publications in the world, in a development that critics warn poses a direct threat to independent media outlets—and the future of the Internet.
“The basic problem is that Facebook is trying to become the Internet, so that it replaces the distributive, cooperative model of digital communication with a centralized, privatized system where a for-profit company controls all the levers of the way that we transmit information,” Jim Naureckas, editor at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), told Common Dreams.
“Knowledge is literally power, and to have all that power concentrated into one company’s hands is really a kind of feudalism,” Naureckas added.
As of Wednesday, the company’s new “Instant Articles” will directly feature articles from The New York Times, BuzzFeed, National Geographic, The Atlantic, NBC News, The Guardian, BBC News, Bild, and Spiegel Online. Under the platform, the entirety of a news article will appear in Facebook’s iPhone app. The perk, according to Facebook, is that the article will load “ten times faster than standard mobile web articles.”
The New York Times says that “news publishers can either sell and embed advertisements in the articles, keeping all of the revenue, or allow Facebook to sell ads, with the social network getting 30 percent of the proceeds.”
Facebook is also allowing media companies to collect data on article readers “about the people reading the articles with the same tools they use to track visitors to their own sites,” explains the Times.
“When you hear Facebook explaining what they are trying to do it sounds innocuous,” said Naureckas. “They are trying to speed up the loading of articles on people’s Facebook pages when they use cell phones. But the means of doing this is to subsume all content that people are receiving under this one company’s control.”
Analysts say this control raises numerous problems.
“Any time Facebook acts as a gatekeeper to all content on the Internet, it raises concerns, not only because of their blocking procedures, but also because of the algorithms they use, which effectively give Facebook control over the content that gets featured,” Timothy Karr, senior director of strategy for Free Press, told Common Dreams.
Karr added that the deal could strike another blow against independent media: “If they are prioritizing prominent news outlets, it only goes to figure that less prominent media organizations get pushed down.”
Writing in anticipation of the deal in April, Trevor Timm, executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation, pointed out that the company’s filtering algorithm “has increasingly turned into a pay-for-play system from news organization. Want more people to see your content?
Then ‘boost’ your posts by shelling out some money. This already has turned Facebook into something of a two-tiered content sharing system, where the rich will inevitably see their stories go ‘viral’ (if you can even call it that) much faster than will the poor.”
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