Poor Mark Zuckerberg.
The Facebook founder’s net worth has dropped nearly $10 billion in just one week due to large, global companies pulling their advertising from his social media platform.
It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who can stand to lose that kind of coin. Don’t worry, I don’t plan to spend too much ink beating up on ol’ Zuck. He is, after all, a great American success story, right?
But the reason all social media platforms — but mainly Facebook — are facing such backlash from advertisers (like Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Unilever, Best Buy and others) is because of the way they handle the misinformation and hate speech spread on their platforms. In Facebook’s case, their “way” is really not handling anything at all.
As advertisers seemingly very recently wised up to this fact and news of these boycotts broke, every newspaper publisher in America went, “Yeah … what took you guys so long?”
Long before COVID-19, Facebook, Twitter, Google and other social media platforms killed or severely crippled newspapers across the country faster than any virus could do. (Though, COVID, you’ve done a fairly good job, too.)
I am not here to whine though. It’s not their fault entirely. (Or the global pandemic’s either.)
Newspapers, as a whole, didn’t do the best job of adapting to the internet.
First, we stupidly retrained everyone — who had been perfectly fine with sticking a quarter in a box for a newspaper for decades — that they should never, ever have to pay to read news again. Silly us! We thought we were going to make money off of the advertising on our websites (ha!). Of course, the aforementioned folks scooped all of those dollars up.
“Muhahahhaha,” Zuck and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey laugh. “Yes, we did!”
Freaked out by this massive loss of revenue, many newspapers then also very stupidly decided to slash their newsroom budgets (the only thing they are really good at and the only product they can uniquely offer) so they could become substandard producers of goofy videos or inferior digital media companies or lousy event coordinators. Why not just sell tires, too?
Though our industry didn’t do itself any favors, it was always unfair social media platforms didn’t have to play by the same rules as traditional publishers. Is that their fault? Not entirely, but it happened. And it doesn’t hurt they have an army of lobbyists to keep it that way. But such is life in these United States, right? Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.
While newspapers or other media outlets would get sued out of business if we printed or broadcasted even a fraction of the misinformation these platforms allow to be posted, shared or tweeted per second across the globe, they have no such concerns. Why? Because they are considered “technology companies,” not publishers. Even though they most certainly are the world’s largest (and richest) publishers.
They have to do very little, if anything, in the fact-checking realm, yet we have to carefully vet every word, which is time consuming and expensive. And then they take all of our digital advertising dollars. And then we thank them for that by happily helping them make their feeds more interesting (for free) to said advertisers (who abandoned us) by regularly posting the columns and articles we have to pay people to produce, fact check, copy edit, lay out and distribute. It’s insanity, but what a sweet, sweet deal it is for them.
But even though I hate what social media has done to traditional media (and really, to society as a whole), I don’t disagree with Zuck’s current policies on his platform. He doesn’t think Facebook should be the arbiter of truth — he thinks people should decide for themselves. And I think he’s right. It’s a slippery slope, and how could they possibly effectively regulate what 1.69 billion people, groups and/or companies are posting? I don’t really see any way you can put that highly toxic toothpaste back in the tube.
And I do think MOST people are smart enough to know what is real or fake on these platforms. Maybe I am being too naïve or optimistic about society, but if they are unable to discern fact from fiction, they were probably going to find their crazy somewhere else anyway.
But I do think advertisers are 100 percent right in wanting to place their products or promote their brands on platforms that do care about truth and do care about not promoting hate speech and do care about doing their very best to inform and educate their communities.
And advertisers, you are in luck! You don’t have to wait until these social media guys clean their acts up. Such exciting “vintage” platforms already exist! And there are many options available — they are called local newspapers, magazines, radio stations and TV affiliates, and they are literally in just about every county in every state in the entire country!
And we are right here waiting for you to come on back home to us!
Zuck slipped a few spots on Forbes’ billionaire list last week primarily due to global companies halting their spending, but I can tell you with great assurance he gets billions from small, local advertisers around the world, too. And they are probably still spending their advertising dollars with him instead of their local media.
And I really think sometimes it’s because advertisers really aren’t thinking about that or making the connection that when they boost an ad or post on Facebook instead of buying ads in their local paper (wink, wink) or magazines or spots on local radio or TV stations, they are sending their advertising dollars to a billionaire in California instead of keeping those dollars in their communities — with the local media who do their best to promote their organizations and events, and who try to keep their communities informed and government officials in check.
I can promise you Mark Zuckerberg isn’t going to be donating any ads to your kids’ school’s charity event or sending reporters to cover your city’s council or water board meeting.
I get why Zuck is a billionaire. The way they can target advertisers is downright creepy, so it can be effective.
But what price is our society as a whole willing to keep paying for it?
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