Facebook lets people share their most intimate details online, engage in a comments war and like their grandma’s new profile picture all at the same time. Now, users can use it to get the news faster than ever.
As reported in the Los Angeles Times last Wednesday, Facebook unveiled its new iPhone app Instant Articles, a feature that allows news outlets such as the New York Times, National Geographic and BBC News to display full content on the social media site. In a deal that lets Facebook and publishers share ad revenue, this partnership marks a new age for accessibility to news.
While this seems like an expected merge to help boost these outlets’ audiences and provide easily accessible news to Facebook’s 1.4 billion users, blending social media and news hands the power to inform the general public to Facebook.
As the L.A. Times pointed out, Facebook has the ability to offer the right ads to users based on their profiles and can target news content based on this information. Though this looks like a plus, it is actually threatening to users.
If Facebook spoon-feeds news to its users, anyone using the app wouldn’t have the responsibility to actively seek it. Publishers aren’t at the whim of Facebook when it comes to articles they choose to share through Instant Articles, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Facebook won’t use its catering powers.
That’s not to say outlets will begin to alter their content to make it more appealing to the Facebook audience, as one L.A. Times column suggested, but it is safe to assume that users will trust Facebook to give them the news out of convenience.
The question then becomes what will happen when users turn away from the news outlets they rely on — and that Facebook provides access to — when readers get news for free. The app also includes Buzzfeed, Bild, the Guardian, Spiegel Online, the Atlantic and NBC News.
The deal outlets currently have with Facebook is that they receive revenue from all ads they sell that appear with their content, as reported in the L.A. Times. Facebook will get to split the revenue from ads it sells with the news outlets.
The common worry accompanying this is that Facebook could eventually change these terms, cutting a larger piece of the ad revenue for itself. This merge is a financial concern as much as it is one of news exposure.
Yet, exposure is key for the media. As the L.A. Times pointed out, users also spend more time on Facebook than on leading news outlets.
While Instant Articles will get more people reading, it will also take that readership away from the outlets, along with the incentive for readers to expose themselves to news on their own. Before Facebook users hop on the Instant Articles bandwagon, they should give a critical eye to the control it gives to Facebook.
Isabelle Cavazos is a senior majoring in English and Spanish.