Facebook is a go-to place for news, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg has insisted that it is not a media company. However, his thinking seems to have evolved — he said this week that the social network “is not a traditional media company.”
“We have a big responsibility to make sure that these tools are used to create the most benefit for people around the world,” Zuckerberg said during his end-of-the-year meeting Wednesday with Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. For the first time, the two used Facebook Live to broadcast their meeting publicly.
He also said Facebook is “not a traditional tech company.”
Zuckerberg’s comments come after criticism of the social network’s role in hosting fake news, which has been blamed in part for the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Zuckerberg’s early reaction to that was that it was “pretty crazy” to think that fake news could’ve influenced the election, but Facebook has since taken action to try to address the issue. Most recently, the company — which says it has 1.79 billion monthly active users — said it is making it easier for users to flag and report fake stories, working with fact-checking organizations and trying to reduce financial incentives for spammers who spoof domains so their “news sites” seem legitimate.
Why does it matter whether Facebook identifies as a media company? Well, it doesn’t make sense to be thinking of and establishing policies about content if it doesn’t acknowledge that it bears some responsibility for that content.
This year especially, the Menlo Park company struggled with how it handled content. It goes beyond the fake-news issue, and brings up censorship concerns that aren’t unique to Facebook. However, Facebook’s vast reach rightly puts it and these issues in the spotlight.
- Facebook was accused of suppressing news from conservative outlets in its Trending news section, setting off a brouhaha that forced Zuckerberg to meet with right-leaning media figures and admit that it wouldn’t be good business to be a place known only for liberal news.
- Over the summer, Facebook temporarily took down a live video of the aftermath of a Minnesota police shooting. The video showed Philando Castile bleeding to death in a car. It later blamed the takedown of the video on a glitch.
- Facebook censored the iconic Vietnam War-era photo of the Napalm Girl, drawing condemnation from around the world.
- The world’s largest social network, along with Twitter and Google, is being sued by the families of three victims of the massacre at an Orlando nightclub. The companies are being accused of providing “material support” to the Islamic State by giving the terrorist organization’s members a platform; the killer is said to have been inspired by the terrorist group.
Now that Zuckerberg has taken responsibility and admitted that Facebook is at least partly a media company, it will be interesting to watch how Facebook goes on to handle issues similar to the ones mentioned above.
For example, it seems to want to move away from censorship, saying in October that it may allow newsworthy items even if they might violate its standards. But that might not jibe with what Zuckerberg said Wednesday about making sure Facebook’s tools are beneficial to the most people. Perhaps the company will be more transparent about how it handles its self-admitted “big responsibility.”
Photo: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2010. (Kirstina Sangsahachart/Daily News)