By Helen Buyniski
Facebook‘s plan to hook ad-cash-deprived mainstream outlets on licensing payouts seems to be an attempt to hijack narrative control en route to total domination of the infosphere – the ultimate safe space, Zuckerberg-style.
More than two thirds of American adults get their news from social media at the same time that more than half expectthat news to be “largely inaccurate.” Perhaps sensing a business opportunity, Facebook has moved in to manage that news consumption, reportedly offering mainstream outlets millions of dollars per year to license their content in order to present it to users authoritatively, as “Facebook News” – having long since ceased trusting users to share news among themselves.
But trusting Facebook to deliver the news is like trusting a cheetah to babysit your gazelles – all that’s left at the end is likely to be a pile of bones. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg warned legacy media last year that if they did not work with his plan to “revitalize journalism,” they would be left dying “like in a hospice.”
Dangling a few million in front of news outlets after depriving them of the advertising cash on which they once subsisted is merely the final step in the process of consolidation and control that began when Facebook removed actual news from its newsfeed in an effort to manage the narrative in the run-up to the 2016 election. A move ostensibly designed to “favor friends and family over publishers,” it instead plunged mainstream and especially alternative media into financial oblivion, setting them scrambling to recoup lost traffic as their place in subscribers’ feeds was taken by cat videos and family snapshots.
Alternative media were further marginalized after Zuckerberg inked a deal with the Atlantic Council – NATO‘s narrative-managers whose board is populated by some of the most notorious warmongers of recent history – who arrived to set the platform straight after it failed to deliver the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton. The group would ensure Facebook played a “positive role” in democracy in the future, a press release promised. Six months later, hundreds of popular political pages had been purged for getting in the way of the Atlantic Council’s version of “democracy.” Several more purges followed, many pages getting the axe for nothing more than espousing views “favorable to Iran’s national interests” or posting content with “anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes.”
Zuckerberg has never hidden his desire to see Facebook become an internet driver’s license, and he has no doubt watched gleefully as French President Emmanuel Macron‘s government weighs requiring citizens to turn over actual identity documents in order to sign up to use Facebook. The platform was the first to adopt an intelligence-agency-friendly “real name policy,” irritating political activists, performers, and others who prefer not to have their social media activity follow them around in real life.
Privacy advocates are currently up in arms over the FBI’s recently-revealed plans to monitor social media platforms in real time. Combined with the recently leaked FBI decision to label all “conspiracy theorists” as potentially-dangerous domestic extremists, this looks an awful lot like a manufactured rationale to spy on the majority of the US population. Yet Facebook has been feeding users’ data to the government for over a decade. It joined the NSA’s PRISM program in 2009, providing the agency with its own convenient backdoor for slurping up the data others have had to hack themselves. Not that that’s been very hard – Facebook admitted last year that data on “most” of its users has been compromised at some point by “malicious actors.”
Facebook’s decision to hire one of the co-authors of the notorious PATRIOT Act as General Counsel earlier this year was touted as a move that would help the company “fulfill its mission.” Which would be what, exactly?
Despite its egregious privacy record, the areas of reality outside Zuckerberg’s control are dwindling rapidly. With the rollout of Facebook’s Libra coin, commerce, too, is falling under the shadow of this menacingly bland figure.
When Zuckerberg was photographed traveling through Middle America several years ago, many pointed out it looked like he was running for president. His announcement around the same time that he had found religion – a vague, made-for-TV, feel-good faith guaranteed not to antagonize anyone – also had the feel of a campaign move. If Facebook – and Zuckerberg’s – history is any guide, he has bigger things in mind for Facebook News than a new tab on the user interface. Every campaign needs a press office, after all…