ZUCKERBERG A MODERN MEDIA MOGUL
It’s an unwanted mantle for the head of a platform that influences what 1.7B people see every day — just don’t compare him to Rupert Murdoch
Meet the 21st century’s reluctant media baron: Mark Zuckerberg.
His Facebook exerts the kind of influence over the media landscape that would be the envy of moguls of old, say, a William Randolph Hearst or Joseph Pulitzer. The social media service he launched a dozen years ago makes invisible decisions about what articles, images and videos its 1.7 billion global users see.
The extent of its editorial clout came into sharp relief when a global protest erupted over Facebook’s decision to remove the iconic photo of a naked 9-yearold girl fleeing napalm bombs during the Vietnam War. The service has strict guidelines on nudity; what its staff didn’t take into account was the historical importance of the photo.
It’s unlikely the last time its editorial judgment, an amalgamation of algorithms and human reviewers, gets rebuked for a bad call, forcing it to wrestle with the same ethical questions newsrooms have for years.
“They increasingly are determining how news gets disseminated, even made, in terms of how you write headlines, how you write articles,” said University of Southern California professor Jonathan Taplin, author of the forthcoming book Move Fast and Break Things.
“I would argue that they’re the most important news organization in the world.”
Zuckerberg shrugs off the mantle of media mogul.
“We’re a technology company, we’re not a media company,” Zuckerberg said in remarks last month to Italian university students. “When you think about a media company, you have people who are producing content, who are editing content. That’s not us. We’re a technology company. We build tools. We do not produce any of the content.”
The reality may be more nuanced, based on conversations with those who know Zuckerberg or have studied the company.
Zuckerberg, who created Facebook’s engineering-driven culture, doesn’t look in the mirror and see a younger version of Australian-born media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
“It’s anathema to him to be lumped in with (Viacom’s) Sumner Redstone or (21st Century Fox’s) Rupert Murdoch,” said Antonio Garcia Martinez, a former Facebook executive and author of the memoirs Chaos Monkeys. “He has to deal with them. He does not see himself like that at all.”
Wall Street prizes tech companies over media conglomerates and rewards Silicon Valley’s innovators with a higher price-toearnings ratio, a calculation made by dividing a company’s current stock price by its earnings per share. Facebook has a price-toearnings ratio of 61.8, based on past earnings. By this measure, it’s far more in demand than a pure-play media company such as Fox, with a P/E radio of 16.9.
“So if Zuckerberg wants to deflate (Facebook’s) value by like two-thirds, then by all means, be a media company,” said Roger Entner, founder and lead analyst with Recon Analytics.
Some industry watchers say Facebook has more in common with a telecommunications company such as AT&T or Verizon Wireless than it does with a traditional media company such as CBS. Its myriad platforms, including mobile applications Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, connect a billion people a month.
It even had ambitious plans to beam Internet service to sub-Saharan Africa via a satellite that was destroyed this month when a SpaceX rocket blew up in Florida.
“They’re clearly a communication platform,” said John Blackledge, a Cowen and Co. Internet analyst and media observer.
Facebook sees its role in determining what users see as less an exercise in editorial discretion than a balancing act, between enabling expression and protecting its community. “These are difficult decisions and we don’t always get it right,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said.
“We’re a technology company, we’re not a media company . ... We build tools. We do not produce any of the content.” Facebook founding father Mark Zuckerberg