Revolutionary Measures

Facebook, News and the impact on communications

The last year or so has seen a rude awakening for tech giants, particularly social media platforms. As they’ve risen in importance, politicians, regulators and the public have moved from seeing their benefits to seeing their downsides – from the spreading of fake news to harbouring racist/terrorist content. Ironically, for the predominantly open and left-leaning leaders of Silicon Valley firms, social media has been at the heart of the Brexit vote and the Trump election, the two biggest political upsets of recent times.

And, all the while the profits of Facebook and Google have grown sharply – it is estimated that in 2017 these two tech giants alone claimed around 80% of every new online-ad dollar in America. Calls are being made for such companies to be more tightly regulated, and to take legal responsibility for the content that they host.

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Faced with this mounting opposition and a potential drop in usage, Facebook has been making changes to its algorithms, with the aim of focusing time spent on the platform on ‘meaningful social interactions’, according to founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. That means reducing the amount of content that people see in their News Feed from media and businesses, with the balance shifting more towards content from family and friends.

Publishers have grown to increasingly rely on Facebook for traffic to their sites, and many have already seen a drop in referrals from the social network. This has led to job cuts at many newer media outlets that have relied on social traffic (such as Buzzfeed and Mashable), as well as consternation from others worried about the impact of the changes on their revenues. Rupert Murdoch has called for Facebook to pay ‘carriage fees’ for using news from media outlets on the site, while others have demanded subscription models to support their journalism.

The key problem for publishers is that Facebook has increasingly become the place many people get their news, meaning you need to continually interest them with individual stories, rather than expecting them to buy a newspaper or browse from a news website’s home page. Many Facebook users probably couldn’t tell you who published the story they clicked on – and the same is true for other newsfeed services such as that offered on iPhones.

So publishers risk having the rug pulled out from under a major source of traffic – at the same time that Google and Facebook have hoovered up the ad revenues that previously supported their activities. While most people won’t shed that many tears at Rupert Murdoch’s power and profits reducing, there are bigger issues here around media plurality and holding people to account at all levels.

The dramatic drop in local newspapers has meant that councils are under less scrutiny from journalists than ever before, and while concerned citizens have taken over in some cases, they are less likely to be impartial or have the training to analyse and comment on complicated stories. I believe that the rise of the internet in general, and of social media in particular, has also contributed to a polarisation of views – people simply don’t see content that constructively challenges their point of view and makes them think about their beliefs. Being in a bubble makes it easy to reinforce existing beliefs and demonise the opposition, ultimately hurting democratic dialogue.

It is too easy to blame Facebook for all of these issues, but it does need to step up and take more responsibility for the consequences of its actions. That means looking at how it works with publishers, and the type of content it does carry, if it is to avoid heavier regulation and potential fines down the line. The ball is definitely in Zuckerberg’s court.

Image (CC) Brian Solis, http://www.briansolis.com / bub.blicio.us, via Wikimedia Commons

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January 24, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

There’s no such thing as privacy

We’ve now had the first three weeks of the Leveson enquiry into journalistic ethics. Created after the scale of phone hacking at the News of the World was uncovered, we’ve seen a steady stream of both celebrities and those caught up in news stories appear to give their testimony. And in many cases the level of press intrusion has been horrifying – for example the News of the World sent a reporter posing as a doctor to the hospital where Anne Diamondgave birth and offered her nanny £30,000 for a story.

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I’ve talked about the PR implications of phone hacking for the Murdoch empire in the past. In fact the enquiry so far is actually helping the rehabilitation process for both James and Rupert. All of the perpetrators of phone hacking and dubious ethical behaviour who were at News International at an operational level have now left, the News of the World itself has been shut down and the spotlight is widening onto other news organisations and if they used similar tactics. So whatever your views on the Murdochs the short term pain, grovelling apologies and low profile are actually delivering the results.

Another point that struck me about some of the witnesses, such as Paul McMullan, former News of the World features editor, was their similarities in outlook to many involved in social media when it came to the question of privacy. I’ve heard internet entrepreneurs such as Ted Shelton state that there is no gap between public and private life anymore, which he sees as a force for good that makes people more reflective about their actions. McMullan put it much more baldly and crudely – “Privacy is for paedos, fundamentally. No-one else needs it. Privacy is evil. It brings out the worse qualities in people. It brings out hypocrisy.”

I’d disagree – everyone is entitled to a private life on or off-line but it is vital to balance this with the public interest. There are plenty of politicians who would like to muzzle investigative journalism – forgetting how it has uncovered genuine scandals, including, for those with short memories, the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone that led directly to this enquiry. In an era where more and more of our lives are carried out in the public eye all of us need protection – but we need to take responsibility over our own actions on the web rather than simply criticising journalists.

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December 5, 2011 Posted by | PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sky News sell-off – missing the point?

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The news that Rupert Murdoch is free to bid for the remainder of BSkyB will redraw the UK’s media landscape, due to the sell-off of Sky News that Jeremy Hunt has mandated when agreeing the deal. While this has been hailed as an elegant solution to avoid concentrating too much power over the news within a single entity, I think Murdoch will be more than happy with the outcome.

While Sky News has dramatically grown its reputation over the last few years it is still loss-making. And with media fragmentation there is nothing to stop BSkyB launching branded, cross-promotional channels (The Times News at Ten?) or even bringing across the low brow Fox News concept to the UK. So news is a bit of a red herring to me.

The bigger prize for News Corporation is the synergies between print, online and broadcast. Heavily promoting Sky shows in The Sun and Times (perhaps with exclusive content), bundling deals (if you have Sky TV and broadband adding a paywall subscription is just an incremental payment) or using both media to rubbish the competition all seem eminently possible. And that’s just some quick thoughts – I’m sure News Corp has teams of people beavering away at this now.

These are the areas that regulators need to watch to avoid the News Corp juggernaut unfairly squashing the competition. Though Murdoch still has to complete the acquisition…….

 

 

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March 4, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment