In a recent blog post aimed at news publishers, Facebook noted the surge in popularity of uploaded video. On your news feed you may have noticed that many videos auto-play without having to click on them. The videos that don’t auto-play are links to sites outside of Facebook. The videos that do are hosted directly on Facebook, like status updates and photos. For news publishers and other brands, the incentive is to upload videos directly to Facebook so that they’ll play automatically and generate more engagement from Facebook users. The blog post was an acknowledgment of this fact, and served as guidance for news companies: This is how to tailor videos to better suit your Facebook audience.
This post is titled “What the Shift to Video Means for Creators” but describes no such thing. What the shift to Facebook video means is that Facebook is more interested in hosting the things media companies make than just spreading them, that it views links to outside pages as a problem to be solved, and that it sees Facebook-hosted video as an example of the solution. A company that uploads its videos to Facebook is not the publisher of those videos. At best, it produced them.
For Herrman, the auto-play video feature is a major step towards Facebook not just helping to spread the news but to host it, and in a real way to own it.
Taking this yet another step, Oremus envisions a time when it’s not just video that’s auto-played. He considers GIFs and lists and even news articles that live as Facebook-native posts, enlarging as you scroll through them.
In Herrman and Oremus’ analysis, Facebook views the websites of media outlets as middlemen. Why click links on Facebook only to be rerouted to sites away from the news feed? Why not instead have all content hosted on Facebook, so that there’s no reason to leave?
What concerns me about this is that if the news feed is granted more power as a home-base for journalism, then it will also have more influence over the editorial content of news.
One hint into the Facebook-native news future, I think, is the way Ferguson news coverage on Facebook was eclipsed on the feed by the omnipresent ice bucket challenge. As many noted at the time, Twitter was fixated on Ferguson, and rightly so; meanwhile it was as if the events surrounding Michael Brown’s death were nonexistent on Facebook. This contrast in the realities of two social networks highlighted the journalistic power of Twitter and the anodyne, joy-prone, mindless nonsense of Facebook.
What would the news look like under the novel pressures of Facebook’s news feed?