February 14, 2018 By Zak Mehan
Facebook’s relationship with news organizations has long been fraught, brought to a head lately by the changes to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm that prefer “meaningful content” shared between users rather than brand content.
The latest result of the tussle was an announcement last week from Brazil’s largest newspaper, Folha de S. Paulo, that it would no longer be publishing articles to Facebook. In a scathing editorial, the paper accused Facebook of trying to “co-opt” publishers into using its Instant Articles product and knowingly providing a vehicle for fake news.
While those concerns are certainly in keeping with broader concerns throughout the industry, the Wall Street Journal focused on a more data-driven aspect of the pullback from Folha de S. Paulo. The newspaper showed that the social media platform’s role as a source of online readership was waning. According to Parse.ly, Facebook’s share of referrals dropped from over 40% to less than 23% in just a year.
The social networking giant will be hoping this doesn’t create a broader trend across the industry, as more and more publishers (and other public figures) lose faith in its commitment to fighting fake news and creating informed communities. One way Facebook is trying to do better is by labeling news and identifying what’s fake, with a new News section within Facebook’s Watch video platform designed to direct users to verifiable sources.
One of those public figures referenced above is Unilever’s Chief Marketing Officer, Keith Weed. Weed, speaking at the annual Interactive Advertising Bureau conference, has sought to leverage Unilever’s power as a major advertising spender to reshape the way social media platforms operate.
Weed is threatening to pull advertising from platforms that “breed division”, a shot at Facebook and YouTube, turning brand safety issues on the platforms into good PR.
This marks a major shift in the conversation. Previously, advertisers feared their content popping up next to unseemly content such as incendiary political propaganda or terrorist recruitment videos. This lead to a push for the social networking giants to clean up their platforms but leave the core functions more or less intact.
The latest push from Weed and others aims at shaping the base culture of social media platforms, which are seen as increasingly responsible for creating “filter bubbles” and proliferating fake news.
Mark Zuckerberg and his contemporaries are fighting hard to battle back against cries of negligence or worse. These valid efforts to police social media are, for now, looking a little like trying to push water up a hill.
In an earlier Download we covered a shift in the focus of political action committees and campaign committees from buying TV ad spots to building digital content and platforms. This week, we saw exactly that phenomenon play out with the establishment of “The California Republican”, an online news outlet launched by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes.
Nunes, who often finds himself criticized by the media over his role in the ongoing Trump-Russian investigation, decided to bypass editorial outlets and set up his own platform for message broadcasting. The site covers an array of stories from local and national news to sports. Most are not about Nunes.
This is likely (purely conjecture here) an intelligent content strategy to build credibility with an engaged audience, creating softer targets for stories that criticize political opponents or reframe stories to favor Nunes.
Political operatives will likely be watching the success or failure of Nunes’ self-publishing efforts to assess the strategy for themselves. We expect this may just be the beginning.
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