Mark Zuckerberg really doesn’t want people to think of Facebook as a media company.
The topic came up as part of his livestreamed Q&A session on Monday, when someone asked the CEO about Facebook’s role in the media and whether the company sees itself as an editor.
After receiving the question, Zuckerberg took a long sip of water and half-groaned as he placed his bottle back on the stage. His pause lasted long enough that when he finally broke the silence with a grin and a very definitive “no,” the crowd laughed.
Zuckerberg went on to explain how Facebook is a technology company that gives media companies tools and a platform, not a media company itself. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard him spout a similar rhetoric recently, because it has been a particularly thorny year for Facebook and the news business.
Zuckerberg maintains that it isn’t a media company because it doesn’t create content. Sure, Facebook isn’t making journalism (what many people think of when they hear “media company”) but it is hosting, distributing, and monetizing content just like a media company.
And even what Zuckerberg said — “When you think about a media company, you know, people are producing content, people are editing content, and that’s not us” — has been more or less true this year depending on how you define producing and editing.
Top of mind, the company just announced that it will no longer have humans write the descriptions for stories that appear in its Trending News section. The change came only a few months after Gizmodo reported that Facebook contractors were suppressing conservative news from the section. Although Facebook vehemently denied any systemic bias, that story and others that followed sparked a big enough controversy about the company’s editorial guidelines that the chairman of the Senate’s Commerce Committee demanded answers and Zuckerberg had to host a round-table gathering of conservative leaders.
Things got worse on Monday, when Facebook came under fire for including a fake story about Fox anchor Megyn Kelley in its revamped trending news section. Meanwhile, the company has made what can be seen as editorial judgments in deciding what sort of violence it will or will not allow in its videos.
On the production side, Facebook has been paying some media companies, including The New York Times, BuzzFeed, and Business Insider, to make a quota of videos as part of its big live video push. It also creates videos for individual users from their old content that it encourages them to share.
Meanwhile, Facebook has complicated its relationship with media companies by containing to push Instant Articles, the super-fast loading news format where it hosts the content and sells the ads for it. It has vowed to try to stamp out the kind of “clickbait” journalism that it helped give rise to and insisted that it doesn’t create an echo chamber of ideas.
As one former Facebook employee familiar with Zuckerberg’s thinking put it recently to Business Insider, the company never wanted to be seen as a media company but has “unwittingly” and “accidentally” morphed into one in many ways. Facebook doesn’t care about news, it cares about getting people to use Facebook, and its enormous effects on the news business has been an unintended consequence.
But as much as Zuckerberg may not want Facebook to be seen as a media company, getting the rest of the world on the same page will likely be something the company is likely to continue to struggle with.
Here’s Zuckerberg’s whole answer on the topic:
“We’re a technology company. We’re not a media company. When you think about a media company, you know, people are producing content, people are editing content, and that’s not us. We’re a technology company. We build tools. We do not produce the content. We exist to give you the tools to curate and have the experience that you want, to connect with the people and businesses and institutions in the world that you want.
So every person gets to program their own Facebook experience, right? You choose who your friends are, who you want to follow, what businesses you want to follow, what other institutions, and in that way, one of the cool things I think about social media is that it’s the most diverse forms of media that has ever existed.
I mean if you think about the way that media worked in the last generation and before the internet, we had TV and we had newspapers, but there really weren’t that many TV stations or newspapers that had the kind of news that you’d want to watch. Maybe there were three or four stations. And they all kind of covered teh same thing, maybe with a different editorial slant on it. Same thing with newspapers. There were probably a few in any given area, with different editorial views, and you’d kind of pick the one that you wanted to read and you got all your information from that.
But now thing about the internet, and social media, and your feed. You now have the chance to connect with people all over the world. The average person in Europe on Facebook now has more than 50 friends from outside their country. Now you’re not just getting your news from around you, you are connected to and getting updates from people all around the world, and all around the continent, and other places. A lot of your friends might share your views, but most people also have friends that don’t, who come from different ethnic backgrounds, different ideas, different political philosophies, and you’re gonna see their content too.
Which is very different from what you’d see on a TV news station, where you just get all your news from one place. So you know, I think that we’re really proud of our role as a technology company, not a media company, in this. I think the world needs this. The world needs media companies too. But the world also needs technology platforms like what we do. And we take our role in this very seriously.
You can start watching the question and Zuckerberg’s answer here at roughly the 38 minute mark: