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Rise of the world's most powerful editor

Facebook, which is fundamentally a software company, with 2.0 billion active monthly users, has become the most influential medium when it comes to deciding which news to consume in digital space. On average, internet users worldwide spent 2 hours in social networking and every week more than half of the internet users across the globe access news content on feeds curated by algorithms designed by the editorial team of Facebook. And this number of people, accessing newsfeed, is growing exponentially and hence giving birth to few pivotal questions like “is Facebook becoming the most powerful media outlet?” “Is Mark Zuckerberg, with his control over 2.0 billion people in terms of news content consumption, becoming the most powerful editor in chief?” With the power of curating content through algorithms and eventually having the authority to delete those using secret algorithms, is Facebook playing a role which is leading to political polarization and growing confusion in public debate regarding what is fact and what is not?

Social media platforms currently are dominating the attention of the online audience. Facebook is leading on the basis of both user base and time spent. Though Facebook started its journey with an objective of creating connections among people in social space and serving the communities better, gradually it is transforming itself into a media content platform. Facebook denies the fact that they are not investing in content creation, but they have recruited people in their newsroom and some play the role of editor and are accountable for developing and tweaking algorithms and eventually curating the contents that are consumed by readers on their newsfeed. The success of Facebook has led to the rise of other social media platforms with innovative approach to tap the ever growing digital market. Despite all the other entrants, Facebook, along with Google, is dominating the digital ad market in US with more than 80% of the share. But great companies don’t just sit back, rather they keep investing in innovation and Facebook has announced their investment in VR and augmented reality platform and also in AI. And this is definitely going to make them stronger in the era of the fourth industrial revolution.

There is no doubt that Facebook is disrupting the operating and business models of the legacy media outlets. But their secret algorithm, used to curate content, has raised questions about its credibility. The editorial work of Facebook is not visible in public domain and there are already few instances of Facebook using its power beyond individual users. Their recent removal of the Norwegian PM’s post has given birth to controversy and created a doubt in the minds of people about the mysterious nature of the Facebook algorithm.  The exponential growth of content, generated from different brands, caused several changes to newsfeed algorithms. Facebook does publish the changes in their official blogs, but the frequency of changes really impacts the perceptions of other brands and publishers who consider Facebook as brand awareness creating tool and source of referral traffic. The recent changes in Facebook where they are prioritizing personal posts over brands and publishers to give more space at the top of the news feed has impacted both the brands and publishers. However these changes achieve business goals though as publishers and brands start spending money to boost the visibility of their Facebook posts.

The algorithm does the editorial role for Facebook by curating personal news feed for each and every one of 2.0 billion users. These algorithms really do an amazing job in aggregating and filtering content which is growing at an exponential rate. And here Facebook is beating the news publishers both in managing content and monetizing the platform and eventually has left the publishers with the sole role of content production. Now publishers are facing the dilemma of whether to do business with Facebook or not, but in reality they have not been left with much choice. Facebook has grown so big that it is quite impossible to ignore the platform and publishers cannot ignore the potential audience and traffic growth from Facebook as a referral source. There is no doubt that in terms of reach and engagement, Facebook must be considered an important platform to the publishers but at the same time, it is running the risk of losing direct relationship with the audience.

Facebook is primarily focusing on the connectivity of people and serving the community better. And they are doing their best as they have prioritized personal posts over other brands and publishers. And that is the core philosophy of Facebook and obviously with a very strong business model to support the whole eco system. The publishers now need to come out of the sole role of content production and should start engaging with their community. They have to be a part of the conversation that is taking place in social platforms. In a recent Facebook status, Mark Zuckerberg said “We can’t do that without journalists, but we also know that new technologies can make it harder for publishers to fund the journalism we all rely on. To be a better partner to the news industry, we started the Facebook Journalism Project. Our goal is to work more closely with newsrooms to develop products like Instant Articles and tools for journalists to report their stories. We’re also working with publishers, researchers and universities to help people become more informed about the news they read online.” This should be an encouraging status for the publishers as Facebook is extending their arms to make sure reporters and publishers everywhere can keep doing their important work.

Social platforms will continue to grow as we are yet to expand on the benefits of the third industrial revolution through ensuring digital connectivity for more then half of the world population in the future. At the same time, Facebook growth has reached the maturity stage in US and European markets but has yet to exploit the Asian and African. On the other hand, news publishers are also expanding their digital and social media presence. Some leading news publishing houses are focusing on a diversified array of published content like posting link, insta article, video content and some are still posting links only to protect the traffic. Though the social media growth will disrupt the operating model of the publishers but still the role of news media remains vital in shaping public opinion and strengthening society.

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