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Facebook & The Press: The Transfer of Power

From the Columbia Journalism Review:

JOURNALISM’S BUSINESS CRISIS is well known, but in the wake of the US presidential election it is increasingly obvious that the true existential crisis for journalism is its lack of influence. Fake news, a decline in trust, and plunging revenues are all proxies for a loss of influence and impact over public opinion and policy. But influence, like energy, is only ever transferred, never destroyed. And the reluctant recipients of the displaced influence once enjoyed by the press are technology companies, which now command not just the dollars but the attention of the global audiences they serve.

Without Twitter and Facebook to amplify the diminished messages of news outlets and individual journalists, most published news would feel very much like shouting into the wind. Facebook in particular, which is currently the exoskeleton of the news industry, has recently made minor adjustments to its policy in regard to journalism that nevertheless represent an enormous philosophical shift for the company. Exercising economic power for Facebook is second nature, but in terms of how it exercises influence, the company is still in the novitiate.

Since before Trump eclipsed all other news, Facebook had been changing its own role as a news source in surprising and significant ways. Both Facebook and Twitter are tightening the way they edit and present the top stories of the day on their platforms. Facebook is turning its trending topics into a reflection of what is important rather than what is individually interesting and is changing its algorithm to promote posts on the News Feed that are “authentic” and aren’t “spammy.” Twitter, meanwhile, has consolidated its “moments” aggregation under a new Explore tab that pulls together live video, trending topics, and the packaged news feel of Moments. In part, these are competitive moves; but for Facebook, they are the start of an acknowledgment of how the debate over information quality in the wake of Trump’s election is driving internal decisions around news.

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