At some point over the past decade, Facebook stopped being a mostly harmless social network filled with baby photos and became one of the most powerful forces in media—with more than 2 billion users every month and a growing lock on the ad revenue that used to underpin most of the media industry. When it comes to threats to journalism, in other words, Facebook qualifies as one, whether it wants to admit it or not.
Facebook’s relationship with the media has been a classic Faustian bargain: News outlets want to reach those 2 billion users, so they put as much of their content as they can on the network. Some of them are favored by the company’s all-powerful (and completely mysterious) algorithm, giving them access to a wider audience to pitch for subscriptions or the pennies worth of ad revenue they receive from the platform.
But while many media outlets continue to pander to Facebook, even some of the digital-media entities that have catered to the company seem to be struggling. Mashable, which laid off much of its news staff to focus on video for Facebook, is being acquired by Ziff Davis for 20 percent of what it was valued at a year ago, and BuzzFeed reportedly missed its revenue targets for 2017 and had to lay off a number of editorial staff.
Facebook continues to move the goalposts when it comes to how the News Feed algorithm works. In January, the company said that it would be de-emphasizing posts from media outlets in favor of “meaningful interactions” between users, and suggested this could result in a significant decline in traffic for some publishers.