In the 15 years since its inception in a Harvard dorm room, Facebook simultaneously became the leading social networking site and one of the largest platforms that users no longer trust.
Why the Distrust?
According to the Ezoic article “2019 Digital Publishing Trends that Publishers Care About ,” 55.5% of publishers voted that Facebook was the platform they trusted the least. The article states that, “Facebook has earned their tough reputation with publishers. A non-transparent change in the newsfeed and the reduction of reach for publisher pages has earned Facebook a tarnished image with publishers.”
Facebook also garnered a disreputable image with publishers due to the biased decision making toward their featured news articles. While a certain amount of bias should be anticipated when dealing with large business corporations – and yes, Facebook is a corporation – copious amounts of bias, such as the information presented during the 2016 election is a red flag for publishers looking for a platform to present their work.
In the Wired article “Of Course Facebook Is Biased. That’s How Tech Works Today,” Izzie Lapowski remarks that during the 2016 election, Facebook was asked by the US Senate Commerce Committee about the allegation that “the company’s news curators have been deliberately suppressing conservative news from surfacing in its Trending Topics.”
This suppression of news comes as no surprise considering that people chose and filtered Facebook’s Trending Topics rather than AI algorithms. Personal bias is impossible to avoid in newsroom situations, and the Gizmodo article that revealed this controversy quoted one former curator who said, “I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz.”
This bias poses problems for consumers and publishers alike while posing the question: what is the benefit of using a specific platform if your content could be ignored or pushed aside based on one curator’s personal opinion?
“The problem is that the people who use Facebook and Google, LinkedIn and Amazon, expect that these services are making decisions independent of human judgment—that the machines can rise above the differences that divide us,” Lapowski said. “When that turns out not to be the case, people feel betrayed.”
Another point of contention between digital publishers and Facebook is Facebook’s constant revisions to the formatting of their platform. According to the What’s New in Publishing article “How Would it Impact Publishers if Facebook Ditches the Like Count?”, Facebook is considering following the lead of Instagram – a social media network owned BY Facebook – to ditch the Like count in order to “bring back the focus on the quality of content shared, rather than only on posting content designed to increase the Like count.”
The Like count will essentially become private to everyone except the publisher, allowing them to concentrate on the content they are producing and not the likes it will receive. While this is positive for consumers who are attempting to discover legitimate, interesting news, this could be detrimental to publishers who acquire new readers based on the popularity of their content.
The reasons behind taking away the Like count are also more self-serving to Facebook’s interests than they would lead consumers to believe. “It could also obscure Facebook’s own potential decline in popularity as users switch to other apps,” said TechCrunch’s Josh Constine in the WNP article.
It’s not just about the Likes themselves, though – it’s frustrating for publishers to believe the platform they are using is set up one way and then find themselves lying on their backs when the rug is ripped out from under them. According to the Ezoic article:
Facebook does seem to bounce back and forth with publishers. They often offer lifelines with new things like Facebook Watch, but then wipe away all goodwill with major changes to things like the way publishers reach their followers on Facebook’s platform.
And while Facebook seems to create a negative reputation with publishers for the benefit of their consumers, Facebook simply makes the best decisions for their company. However, considering the data-selling scandal of 2018, Facebook’s attempts to help consumers regulate their news has been subpar at best.
In order to change their News Feed to incorporate trustworthy news in their rankings, Facebook created a two-question survey. These two questions were, “Do you recognize the following website?” and “How much do you trust each of these domains?” Though Facebook provided simple questions, consumers complained that this survey was completely unreliable.
“I’ve filled out more robust surveys at fast food restaurants,” said Rani Molla, a journalist for Recode who criticized the survey on her personal Twitter.
The Verge’s article “Why Facebook’s Survey About Trust Won’t Make or Break the Media (Something Else Might Break it First)” expands on the issues surrounding the new survey:
The anxiety here is that survey results could be inaccurate, leading to a mis-ranking of publishers that favors the most partisan sites and exacerbates Facebook’s negative effects on democracy. For journalists, there is a secondary, existential fear: that publishers who fare poorly in the survey will see their traffic collapse, leading to declining revenues and eventually layoffs.
Ultimately, Facebook’s attempts prove ineffective and reveal its desire for self-preservation above content integrity for the consumer.
How Publishers Can Cash in on Facebook’s Failings
Between the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the sudden algorithm changes that have drastically reduced publishers’ outreach to followers, Facebook’s popularity is at an all-time low. In the opinion of Digital Content Next, now is the time for publishers and other companies to capitalize on Facebook’s free fall.
Jesse Moeinifar, the writer of the DCN article, urges publishers to take this opportunity to create their own platform, where “instead of struggling to build your brand on Facebook,” publishers will gain control over their published content on a personalized domain.
On this new platform, publishers are encouraged by Moeinifar to “give the people what they want” by providing a safe, easily accessible opportunity for consumers to engage in social interactions with fellow users.
Consider integrating tools directly on your platform that allow your users to discuss your content and chat with one another. By generating engagement on your domains, your visitors will be more inclined to interact on a consistent basis and subscribe.
Thus, publishers who create their own platform can excel by being a legitimate, reliable source with relevant content targeted towards the consumers’ interests.
“If you create valuable content that maintains a consistent tone and is highly relevant to your readers, they will view your brand as a reputable source for trusted media,” said Moeinifar.
Publishers need to produce relevant, reliable content that builds trust with their consumers. In a time where Facebook is less trusted than ever by consumers and publishers alike, it’s time for new platforms to arise from the ashes of a Harvard student’s once great media conglomerate.