Throughout its twelve-year life, Facebook has always defined itself as a technology company. That definition has clearly conditioned its strategy, which has focused on becoming a power in terms of development, a task in which its own founder continues to be involved. Most Facebook acquisitions, in fact, reflect this: teams of good developers it tries to retain at all costs and empower with the resources of their new home, integrating them into powerful teams and providing them with more resources. The post-acquisition evolution, one of the most important elements in the success of a company that uses this tool with remarkable frequency, seems to reflect this approach.
At the same time a complementary image of Facebook is emerging: a media company. Unlike traditional outlets, and instead a platform to encourage the production of content.
Understanding Facebook as a media company implies, firstly, trying to solve what many consider its biggest challenge today: the proliferation and dissemination of false news. From the idea of being a passive platform that has no control over what it is used for is another vision leading the company to take responsibility, educate journalists, open its data to researchers, and to try to develop fact-checking systems that, within limits, allow users to know what to expect when they access content there.
This approach could foment the development of another type of content on Facebook: instead of focusing on live video, paying celebrities to do live streaming, which appeared to be something of an obsession for its founder, the company now seems to be eliminating these economic incentives in order to try to encourage longer, higher-quality content the company would be interested in paying for.
Such a positioning would bring Facebook closer to the idea of a television channel partially able to finance content development and offer additional advertising schemes, such as new video ads in Instagram Stories or mid-roll ads that interrupt videos like traditional television advertising. Production companies would approach Facebook with an idea for an audiovisual format along the same lines as they would for a standard television channel, with a certain target audience in mind, but with much more information about it: conventional television can only play with broadcasting hours or self-promotion to try to position programs for certain sociodemographics, while Facebook would be able to offer a range of infinitely more precise and powerful segmentation tools, supplemented with social mechanisms.
This could, however, raise a conflict of interest: would different conditions apply to the content produced or partially financed by Facebook, in which the company has a stake in increasing its audience, than that generated by a television or a newspaper when it comes to accessing advertising mechanisms? The dilemma is very similar to Google’s when it began to publish search results that included its own products and services placed in privileged positions on the page, in direct competition to other companies whose visibility was limited, and that generated an entire anti-monopoly case in the European Union.
Are we approaching a similar scenario, with Facebook focused on fostering content development and competing with other traditional actors in that regard? For some time now, I have seen Facebook as the world’s largest communication channel, the one that has reached more people and that has followed key commercial and even political strategies. Perhaps Facebook now believes it cannot escape that role and has begun to develop it, with all that could entail.
(En español, aquí)