Supposedly the world’s favourite social network, despite its popularity and usefulness, I can’t help but feel companies have good reasons to be angry at Facebook right now.
From extremist content to fake news, the platform needs to step up in order to clean up its act. While there have been some significant steps taken of late, there could be so much more done to give a little back to business users, which have been instrumental in its rise to quarterly profits of $3.89billion.
Targeted counter-messaging aimed at online groups and individuals deemed to harbour extremist views, the Journalism Programme helping reporters harness the capabilities of social media to disseminate legitimate coverage of major events, and fake news warnings that now pop up on articles with questionable facts. The recent announcements that Instant Articles will now offer a subscription option, with revenue going straight to the publisher; and blocking ads that link to malicious or misleading sources.
All these initiatives are good- they look to curb the rise in harmful content and support genuine journalism, which we all need to survive. But when you think of the impact of fake news and online extremism on brands, not to mention the damage to society and public safety as a whole, then it feels like this is all far too little. Let’s just hope it’s also not too late.
The way in which Facebook, and indeed many other social platforms, sell advertising is a problem we have highlighted on our blog several times before. Programmatic basically means placing commercials next to high ranking content, the more you pay the better the position. But without checks and balances in place to determine when either the ad, or the host page, is actually harmful, it’s a worrying game to play.
Of course you can’t knock the networks when it comes to embracing change- one look at the constant updates we post on our site is enough to show just how much these platforms, particularly Facebook, are willing to reinvent and reconfigure. But the focus remains on increasing revenue, with many of the efforts to counter the dark side of social relying on tools created for other, more profitable purposes. Targeting specific accounts, for example, began life as a new form of direct marketing.
Perhaps more worrying still, there is evidence to show that fake news stories are becoming news in themselves, deemed sharable simply because they ridiculous. So what use is warning people content is heavily biased or fabricated? Facebook’s inability to police itself hardly bodes well for its users having the same responsibility. And when the network is increasingly controlling the flow of information, should we not be deeply concerned about the potential for it to start favouring some sources- perhaps those with big ad spends- over others, even if they are both legitimate?
Google’s recent fine at the hands of the E.U. courts- handed out because it has perverted search results to promote its own products and services- should be the stark warning that we all needed to wake up and smell the rapidly developing problem. It’s time to call these tech giants to order, and make them adhere to the standards many comparable industries have had for decades. Otherwise, to paraphrase Lisa Simpson, if they are their own police, then who will police the police?
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