‘Fox on steroids’?

The so­cial me­dia gi­ant, which has nearly 1.8bn users, has come un­der fire in re­cent months, with crit­ics slam­ming Face­book for al­low­ing fake news to be cir­cu­lated and for cen­sor­ing con­tent.

Finweek English Edition - - COVER STORY FACEBOOK - Edi­to­rial@fin­week.co.za

theyear 2016 was when so­cial me­dia gi­ant Face­book faced height­ened scru­tiny re­gard­ing the role it plays within the me­dia land­scape. It was the year that saw founder Mark Zucker­berg deny that Face­book was a me­dia com­pany – to howls of ob­jec­tion and de­ri­sion from many com­men­ta­tors around the world.

One critic de­scribed Face­book as “Fox News on steroids”.

The crit­ics es­sen­tially ar­gued that the only rea­son Zucker­berg would not ad­mit that Face­book is a me­dia com­pany, is that it would be bad for busi­ness.

Ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists spec­u­lated that Face­book had a lot to lose and noth­ing to gain from declar­ing it­self a me­dia com­pany.

If Face­book was con­sid­ered a me­dia com­pany, it would be forced to pay more at­ten­tion to is­sues of free speech and cen­sor­ship, never mind jour­nal­is­tic in­tegrity and ethics. But the facts speak for them­selves. In 2015, Face­book was ranked num­ber five in the ZenithOp­ti­me­dia’s 2016 Top Thirty Global Me­dia Own­ers re­port.

Its me­dia rev­enue grew 63% year-on-year.

The re­port says that Face­book’s $11.49bn in rev­enue placed it be­hind Google hold­ing com­pany Al­pha­bet, The Walt Dis­ney Com­pany, Com­cast and 21st Cen­tury Fox.

Mean­while, Face­book is spend­ing $50m com­mis­sion­ing com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als to cre­ate videos for its plat­form.

Elec­tion fall-out

In the wake of Don­ald Trump’s shock elec­tion win in the US, the crit­i­cism of Face­book in­ten­si­fied.

It was ac­cused of spread­ing fake news and mis­in­for­ma­tion to its al­most 1.8bn users and that this had had an ef­fect on the elec­tion re­sult. A re­cent study by the Pew Re­search Cen­tre found that half of all Amer­i­cans rely on Face­book for news. A few days af­ter the elec­tion, Zucker­berg pub­lished an es­say, re­act­ing to the crit­i­cism.

“Af­ter the elec­tion, many peo­ple are ask­ing whether fake news con­trib­uted to the re­sult, and what our re­spon­si­bil­ity is to pre­vent fake news from spread­ing,” he wrote.

“These are very im­por­tant ques­tions and I care deeply about get­ting them right.”

Zucker­berg ar­gued only a small per­cent­age of con­tent that is shared was fake news, but ad­mit­ted there is more the so­cial me­dia gi­ant can do.

A few days af­ter the es­say was re­leased, The New York Times pub­lished an ac­count of a pri­vate chat that had taken place the night of the elec­tion be­tween var­i­ous Face­book ex­ec­u­tives.

The is­sue they were de­bat­ing was the role that Face­book had played in the elec­tion re­sult.

Ac­cord­ing to the news­pa­per, many Face­book staffers were con­cerned about the spread of racist con­tent across the net­work, while oth­ers are con­cerned with the idea that the net­work cre­ates “fil­ter bub­bles”, cy­cles that re­in­force the views of the user and never chal­lenge them.

The so­cial me­dia com­pany was ac­cused of po­lit­i­cal bias and cen­sor­ship in May dur­ing the run-up to the US elec­tion, and in Septem­ber came un­der fire for re­mov­ing a Pulitzer Prize-win­ning photo of a naked girl flee­ing na­palm bombs dur­ing the Viet­nam War be­cause it vi­o­lated Face­book’s nu­dity pol­icy.

It’s clear that walk­ing this tightrope be­tween be­ing a tech­nol­ogy com­pany and a me­dia com­pany will plague Face­book for its im­me­di­ate fu­ture.

Face­book in SA

In June 2015, Face­book opened its first African of­fice, head­quar­tered at up­mar­ket de­vel­op­ment Mel­rose Arch in Jo­han­nes­burg.

Ad­ver­tis­ing vet­eran Nunu Nt­shingila was named as the new head of Face­book’s African of­fice. She helped drive the cre­ation of Ogilvy’s net­work in subSa­ha­ran Africa.

The so­cial me­dia gi­ant said it had plans to use the Jo­han­nes­burg of­fice to grow its busi­ness in Africa, with an ini­tial fo­cus on Kenya and Nige­ria, along­side South Africa.

How­ever, Sene­gal, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Tan­za­nia, Rwanda, Uganda, Zam­bia, Mozam­bique and Ethiopia were also in­cluded in its plans.

The com­pany said it would part­ner with gov­ern­ments, tele­coms op­er­a­tors, agen­cies and other stake­hold­ers to “de­liver lo­calised so­lu­tions to ad­ver­tis­ers and users across the con­ti­nent”.

In SA, Face­book has al­ready part­nered with Cell C to zero rate ac­cess to its net­work.

Face­book had about 120m ac­tive users a month in Africa in 2015, Reuters re­ported.

In SA, a quar­ter of all cit­i­zens are users, with a to­tal of 14m peo­ple us­ing the plat­form monthly, ac­cord­ing to the South African So­cial Me­dia Land­scape 2017 study, which was re­leased in Septem­ber.

This presents growth of 7.7% in its South African user base from 13m in 2015. Nearly 86% of them ac­cess the so­cial me­dia plat­form via their mo­bile phones, up from 71% in 2015, the study found.

Nunu Nt­shingila Head of Face­book Africa

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