Deals are reportedly in the works to give Facebook greater control over the news stories shared on its platform.
According to The New York Times, Facebook has met with several media companies to discuss the possibility of its directly hosting their content -- a shift that would fundamentally change how users access news articles on the site. The Huffington Post, The New York Times, Buzzfeed, National Geographic, Quartz and The Guardian have all been approached, per the Times report.
Currently, when you click on a Times article via Facebook, for example, you are sent to a page hosted on the Times' website. Under the new proposed arrangement, you'd click a link that would load the article on Facebook itself, hypothetically reducing the load time for that content. But the change might also give Facebook more control over the content hosted on its platform.
The details of the proposed partnerships are not clear. Would media companies have new pages within Facebook? Would their content appear differently to users, compared to articles from outlets that aren't partnered with the social network? Facebook did not respond to HuffPost's request for comment.
Some, like Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, voiced concerns that such a partnership could influence how Facebook's 1.4 billion users get their news:
Presumably those news organisations who have a deal to create journalism within Facebook will also be favoured in terms of the algorithm?
— emily bell (@emilybell) March 24, 2015
Others had more creative concerns:
What I want to know is, are the stories all gonna look the same? Does hosting news on Facebook mean abdicating typography?? 😱
— Robin Sloan (@robinsloan) March 24, 2015
Of course, Facebook already has a ton of power over news media. On Monday, popular news website Vox said Facebook represented 40 percent of the site's monthly traffic at times. The social network is able to influence any page's "reach," or how many people actually see a media outlet's post. In November, Advertising Age called Facebook's model "pay-to-play," and suggested that brands have to fork over cash to reach a wider audience. Anyone who's ever run a public page on Facebook probably recognizes the frustration of a post reaching only a fraction of one's overall audience, but that's Facebook's algorithm at work.
The new hosting proposal would further cement Facebook's influence on the media. News outlets certainly have some incentive to go along with the proposal: As Joshua Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab pointed out Monday, Facebook has an incredible amount of data about its users -- data that could lead to better advertising revenue for media outlets if they decide to partner with the platform.
"Is it worth the tradeoff to get extra Facebook dollars today in exchange for a little of your independence tomorrow?" Benton wrote. "I suspect it might be, in the narrow short term, a net positive for some publishers, especially those with no hope of charging for their content. But it's also the sort of decision that one might look back on in a few years as the moment you got swindled."
Facebook remains by far the largest social network on Earth. It offers a powerful search service connecting its users and the content they've shared. Looking to the future, Facebook may soon integrate your debit card into its service (if it doesn't have that information already). It also wants to develop an "artificial brain," and in partnership with companies like Nokia and Samsung, hopes to control Internet access in parts of the world with solar-powered drones.