Facebook continues to establish itself as the great referee of the media, picking winners and losers, and propping up discredited establishment media sources that would otherwise naturally fade into obscurity, victims of their own conspiracy-mongering hysteria.
Two stories from the past two weeks highlight this. First, Facebook has stuck to its decision to reverse an earlier promise to include political ads from news publishers in a historical database of political ads, which would allow observers to track the spending and influence of political ads on Facebook over time.
With news publishers exempt, they will be able to push politically biased ads out to audiences on Facebook, controlling for electoral significance, with little opportunity for outside observers to track their activities. Facebook is allowing the media the privilege of being able to influence politics from the shadows.
It’s typical — the corporate media, which harshly criticized Facebook for a lack of transparency in political ads, loves to demand transparency from others, but hates it when any sunlight is directed their way.
The second story is CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that the social network will consider paying publishers for so-called “high-quality content,” a measure long demanded by old media titans like Newscorp’s Rupert Murdoch.
Of course, without any clear definition of what “high-quality content” actually is, Zuckerberg would once again be granting his platform more power to pick winners and losers in the media. It’ll be Zuckerberg who gets to decide what a “high-quality” source is, and subsequently push that source to users whether they’ve elected to see it or not.
The influence of user choice, expressed through tools such as the “like” and “follow” buttons, continues to diminish, and the influence of platform CEO choice, expressed through top-down algorithm changes and corporate media partnerships, continues to expand. Breitbart News documented this trend in 2018, when Zuckerberg announced his platform would identify “broadly trusted” news sources to promote.
The decision to announce potential funding for “high-quality news” (by which Facebook obviously means establishment, corporate media) is particularly outrageous given the timing: just a week after Russiagate, a two-year long narrative of the mainstream media, was revealed to be a conspiracy theory.
The public knows what’s up. After the Mueller report exonerated.ed the president, ratings for both CNN and MSNBC took a nosedive. Meanwhile, Fox News, the only establishment TV network that didn’t go full-Russiagate, surged.
Spectacular though the disaster was, trust in the media had reached rock bottom some time before the Russiagate narrative imploded. A recent poll from the Columbia Journalism Review found that Americans now have a lower opinion of the media than of members of Congress, another highly unpopular class. Just over 25 percent of Democrats reported a “great deal of confidence” in the press, around the same number who reported “hardly any confidence at all.” If the mainstream media can’t even convince a majority of Democrats to believe their narrative-spinning, who can they convince?
But this shouldn’t be surprising. Beyond Russiagate, the American public has borne witness to ceaseless media hysteria and conspiracy theorizing over the past two years. This is the same press that pushed baseless smears — now retracted by the Washington Post — against high school kids because they dared to wear MAGA hats while left-wing crazies harassed them.
And that’s just the news stories — flip to the opinions section of any establishment publisher, and you’ll find headlines like “This Is How Racist Your Air Is” (Mother Jones), “Why Are So Many White Men So Angry?” (Washington Post) and “I Broke Up With Her Because She’s White” (New York Times).
Outside the bubble of metropolitan leftism, it’s not hard to see why the establishment media has alienated the public — and you don’t even need Russiagate to tell the story.
The masters of the universe in Silicon Valley are very much a part of that bubble, though. Mark Zuckerberg has bought the argument, pushed by much of the mainstream media, that technology is to blame for the media’s decline (as opposed to the media’s own hysterical, conspiracy-pushing, race-baiting behavior). He’s determined to prop them up, while undermining their non-mainstream competitors with dishonest warning labels, mass-bans, and algorithmic suppression.
If Zuckerberg wants to turn Facebook into a publisher that edits, selects and rejects content for its users, it’s his right to do so, of course. But as Sen. Cruz, Sen. Hawley and other critics of big tech have pointed out, a platform that behaves like a publisher should lose the privileges of being a “neutral platform” — including the all-important legal immunity that protects it from lawsuits over user-generated content and top-down banning.