Just a few weeks ago, Facebook launched a new section in its news feed in the US, and to qualify for getting included, publishers need to have a certain audience size and abide by certain integrity standards.
Big advertisers like Coca Cola, Unilever, Starbucks and Diageo, among several others, deciding to pull out advertising from Facebook till it does something concrete to stop racial hatred and misinformation—this includes, ironically, statements by president Trump—may not hurt the social media giant in the immediate future as most of its $70 billion advertisement revenue comes from small businesses, but the long-term impact can be quite significant. Over many years, social media giants have replaced mainstream media as a source for news and views. While this worked well initially as there were more diverse sources of news, over time, the result has been a proliferation of fake news—this requires a speed of transmission that only social media can offer—and a lot worse. Indeed, since social media attempts to offer users what they have a natural affinity to—by tracking their consumption habits, travel patterns, etc—this has also resulted in only a certain kind of news getting amplified; over time, a migrant-hater in the US, for instance, would primarily get news feeds of articles that show migrants are the source of a lot of the country’s problems.
So, if large advertisers start boycotting social media giants like Facebook for fake news, amplifying hate speech—it could be something else tomorrow—this would suggest social media might be forced to change the way it delivers news, away from reinforcing a person’s prejudices with feeds from persons of the same view—think of WhatsApp forwards—to some genuine news from reputed media organisations. Just a few weeks ago, Facebook launched a new section in its news feed in the US, and to qualify for getting included, publishers need to have a certain audience size and abide by certain integrity standards. Whether this means more genuine news will get pushed to Facebook users is not clear though; just some months ago, Facebook had protested against the Australian proposal to get it to pay for content it shared from conventional media. Meanwhile, Google has said it will start paying for high-quality news in Australia, Brazil and Germany. A lot of this, undoubtedly, is under government pressure and it is not clear how this will shape up since, even under the new plans, Google and Facebook have a powerful role in deciding whose news is to be circulated. It is early days, and we need to see how these incipient trends develop.