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Strategic analysis
Facebook Versus Aftenposten: We Are Fighting the Wrong War

Written by on September 13, 2016

We need to talk about what happened last week between Aftenposten in Norway and Facebook. You have probably already heard the story. Facebook deleted one of Aftenposten's posts when it contained an image of a naked child fleeing from napalm bombs.

I won't go into the details, because you probably already know them, and if you don't, head over to The Guardian to read a summary.

But the short story is that Facebook deleted the post because it violated its community guidelines, and the press went bananas. The Editor of Aftenposten posted a front-page editorial telling Facebook that it wouldn't comply with their rules; the Norwegian Prime Minister posted the image in her support of this 'censorship', which Facebook also deleted. Not because they wanted to silence the Prime Minister, but because she too posted a picture of a naked child... and it just got crazy from there.

After a whole day of the press running around with pitchforks, Facebook relented and reinstated the post. Of course, by doing so, nothing actually changed and this whole thing will repeat itself at some point in the future.

The problem is that this is the wrong fight to have in the first place. Regardless of who wins, we are fighting against what the people want... and that is a fight that nobody can benefit from.

We need to have an entirely different type of discussion about what the role of Facebook is.

So, let's have a talk about this.

Two disclaimers

Before I start though, I feel I need to make two things clear.

The first thing is that, on a personal level, I have an opinion about this photo like everyone else. In my country, our sensitivity towards nudity is quite relaxed, and I didn't feel any outrage when I saw this photo.

But, my personal opinion about this doesn't matter. One of the promises that I make to you as a media analyst is that I do not allow my personal feelings to interfere with my analysis, and this is true for this article as well.

I point this out because many will think that I'm expressing an opinion in this article, but I'm not. And I hope you will read it in the same way. Please leave your personal opinion about Facebook behind, and let's have a serious discussion about media trends, patterns and movements.

Okay?

The second disclaimer is that Schibsted, the company who owns Aftenposten, is actually a client of mine. Not only do I have several Schibsted editors and executives as subscribers to Baekdal Plus, they are also a client of my consulting business.

I have not worked directly with Aftenposten, but I worked with other publications within the Schibsted Group, I was recently invited to give a talk at one of their events (which I had to decline for other reasons), and I was invited to contribute to the Annual Report of the Tinius Trust, who is the largest shareholder of Schibsted.

Schibsted is a media company that is a very dear to me.

So, I'm faced with a very painful dilemma. I can either just ignore this whole thing so as to not 'rock the boat' which would be dishonest to my readers, who have asked me to write this article. Or, I can be a media analyst and provide my unfiltered analysis of this problem.

I'm obviously going to do the latter and provide you with the unfiltered analysis, but I really hate being put into this position.

So, here we go...

Is Facebook a media company?

Before we talk about the actual photo, we need to address a common misconception that I see every day in the media industry. It's the question of whether Facebook is really a media company, or whether it's just a tech company.

Facebook itself likes just to be called a tech company, because that way it can point to its engineers and algorithms and not have to own up to the responsibility that comes with acting like an editor.

Journalists and editors too want Facebook to be just a tech company and merely act as a platform for distribution. Because, as a tech company, editors can demand that Facebook doesn't interfere with their own editorial focus.

And when we look at what happened last week, this was what the media did. They demanded that Facebook should not be allowed to interfere with the media's editorial decisions, and thus defined Facebook as merely a tech company.

But the reality is quite different, because Facebook is obviously a media company in every single way. It has been a media company for at least the past five years, and every single thing it has done within that time is identical to what newspapers and editors are doing every day.

One simple example of this is to look at the Facebook News Feed. It is an edited stream of content, defined and shaped by Facebook's editorial focus. But unlike newspapers where this focus is based on formats and topics, Facebook's editorial focus is defined by behavior and moments.

The behavior Facebook is optimizing for is very simple. It's basically trying to create what I would call a 'positive social engagement' followed by a scope that is defined as trying to reach as 'diverse an audience as possible'.

This is a very different way of defining your editorial purpose than what we see with traditional publishers, but it's still an editorial driven purpose.

And every single thing Facebook has done over the past five years (if not more) has been driven with this editorial focus in mind.

When Facebook recently announced it would tweak its NewsFeed to focus more on friends and family over news content, it was because of this editorial focus. By focusing on family, it is driving the attention to content that is better aligned with creating a 'positive social engagement' than news stories (which often have a negative focus).

This is why they made that change. Facebook knows that the best way to succeed as a social network is to focus on positive engagement rather than on negative engagement. So it's using its editorial independence to drive just that specific outcome.

This is no different than what every other media company does. You might have an entirely different editorial focus, but you are also focusing on only the stories that you think are right for you. A newspaper, for instance, focuses most of its time on politics, crime and other important topics for society, stories that sometimes include pictures of naked children in war zones. A lifestyle magazine, on the other hand, defines its editorial focus in an entirely different way, which does not include pictures of naked children.

So, because Facebook's output is driven by a specific editorial focus, Facebook is a media company. Full stop!

It doesn't matter if it says it's just a tech company, because it's not. And it hasn't been just a tech company for a very long time.

But here is the thing. The media is also demanding that Facebook should act like a media company. You may not like that Facebook is a media company, and journalists constantly complain about it, but you are the ones forcing them to think like one.

I can prove this in a very simple way.

Over the past several years, there has been repeated calls to Facebook for them to take a more active role in limiting what people can post on the platform. Back in May, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft all signed the EU Hate Speech Code. There have been similar calls for Facebook to act more against pictures of naked children (and nude pictures in general). And Facebook's users frequently express their disdain for certain types of content.

Facebook then has two choices. It can either act like a neutral tech company, like Reddit, and just allow whatever. Or Facebook can act like a media company and say that it only wants to be a channel for a certain type of content.

Facebook has chosen to be the latter. It has chosen that Facebook isn't a platform for everything, and instead has created a list of things that it won't allow people to publish, as outlined in its Community Standards.

This again makes Facebook a media company, based around a certain editorial purpose that defines what it wants to be about, and what it doesn't want.

On top of this, media people continually demand that Facebook make exceptions from these rules, like what we saw last week.

Facebook has decided that it won't allow nudity on its platform, and especially not nude children. But editors and journalists are now demanding that it should make an exception in certain cases where a picture or a story is deemed to be 'in the public interest' or has 'historical value'.

The only way Facebook can make such a complicated determination is to use human editors. No computer (at least not yet), is able to determine if a picture is in the public interest or not. Only a real editor can do that.

So, we in the media are demanding that Facebook acts like an editor, which again means that we are demanding that they behave like a media company.

We are forcing Facebook to be a media company.

You can't have it both ways. You can't on one hand demand that Facebook cannot interfere with someone's posts on Facebook, and then on the other demand that they do interfere.

Either Facebook is a media company with all that entails, or it is not. And Facebook is clearly a media company.

This means Facebook has the right to do everything that Aftenposten does, including deciding whether or not a specific post should be published or not. It means that Facebook has all the rights to define its own editorial focus. It means that it can decide whether it wants to be media more like a newspaper, with scary and mostly negative stories, or whether it wants to be more like a lifestyle magazine, with mostly positive stories.

This is the disconnect that we see today. You demand that Facebook acts more like an editor in determining what it allows on its platform and when to make exceptions. But at the same time, you also demand that it shouldn't be allowed to define its own editorial judgment for what type of platform it is.

You are trying to force Facebook into becoming more like you, with tighter editorial judgment, but you don't allow them to set their own editorial focus.

This inconsistent message also came to light when Facebook deleted the post by the Norwegian Prime Minister. The media industry was outraged. "How dared Facebook delete a post by a politician?" people said. "The Prime Minister should be allowed to post freely," people said.

Seriously?

How can we say that as journalists and editors?

Let me ask you a simple question. What would you do, as a newspaper, if you received a photo from a politician? Would you just publish it without even looking at it, or would you put it through an editorial review to determine whether this was a story you wanted to bring or not?

We all know the answer. No newspaper in the world would blanket publish content submitted by politicians. In many cases you would refuse to publish the story, while in other cases you would ask a journalist to rewrite the story and add more viewpoints from experts or other politicians.

But you would never just allow politicians to use your platform without supervision. And even for those newspapers where you host blogs by politicians, you would step in and remove a blog post if a politician's posted something that violated your editorial guidelines.

Even more to the point, every newspaper would exercise their own editorial standards depending on what type of newspaper they are. A financial newspaper would judge the relevancy entirely different from local newspaper or a lifestyle magazine.

You see the inconsistency here? How can we be outraged by our own standards? We are demanding that Facebook should act more like an editor, but we refuse to recognize that not all media companies share the same editorial focus.

We either accept Facebook as a media company or we don't. But we cannot argue that Facebook should act like a media company, except when it interferes with us. This is an invalid discussion to have.

This also links to another common misconception I see in the media. Most journalists and editors still believe that we are somewhat special, and that our articles should be treated differently because they are written for a newspaper.

I agree that, from a moral perspective, we should approach journalism in a different way and hold ourselves to a higher standard than ordinary people. But we have no right to demand that other people give us preferential treatment.

This is painfully obvious on Facebook, because, on Facebook, everyone is a publisher.

Everyone!

Facebook's editorial standards apply equally to all. It doesn't matter if you are the Prime Minister of Norway, the editor of a big newspaper, a journalist, a police officer, or a CEO, a scientist, a factory worker, or a senior citizen.

Facebook doesn't distinguish between who you are in the News Feed. It treats everyone the same, which also means that it applies their standards to everyone equally.

We cannot argue that Facebook should treat editors differently than a factory worker because that would mean that they would have to define their standards differently for one group of people than another.

Want to know why this is so important? Look at Turkey.

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan has turned it into law that it's illegal for the press to publish offensive stories about him, but no law prevents him from saying offensive things about anyone else.

This is what happens when you allow different standards to be set for different people, and we, in the media industry, should be the first ones to speak out against that.

This also means that we cannot argue that Facebook should allow Aftenposten to post a naked picture of a child, while it should not allow it for someone else.

The argument that Facebook should not be allowed to interfere with our 'editorial judgment' because we are a newspaper is not a valid argument.

Facebook must apply their editorial standards equally to all, regardless of your status. It doesn't matter if a picture is posted by the Prime Minister of Norway or a big newspaper. That is irrelevant to this discussion.

This again links to the discussion about different standards for different countries. In Norway (and for Scandinavia in general), we have a much more relaxed view on nudity and it's often seen the in the media. In the US, it's almost unheard of.

So many journalists here in Northern Europe argue that Facebook shouldn't apply US sensibilities to people in Norway. I get why you say that, but you are missing the point about how Facebook works.

The reason why Facebook must have a single rule for everyone isn't because Facebook is a global company. It's actually because of sharing.

When you share a post on Facebook, you expect all of your friends to be able to see it, no matter where they live. But if Facebook were to set different standards for different countries, it would have to allow some types of posts in one country, while remove them in other countries.

And when you do that, you end up with this:

This is why we need one set of standards globally. Because none of us wants to be told that something a friend shared with you on Facebook isn't available just because you happen to live in another country.

This is the reality of the connected world. We are a global community where sharing must be equal to all.

But the problem doesn't stop here; the demand towards Facebook has got even worse.

Should shareholders define the editorial focus?

On the same day of the outrage by the press towards Facebook, the Norwegian Press Association issued a press release calling for 'Oljefondet', the largest Norwegian shareholder in Facebook, to evaluate Facebook's editorial ethics.

Wait... what???

Let me repeat. A press association is arguing that a shareholder should use its business influence to interfere with the editorial focus and the editorial independence of a media company.

Have they gone absolutely mad??

How can a press association make such a statement? How can anyone in the media join such a statement? Can you imagine if anyone ever suggested this happening to any other media company?

Can you imagine if the Norwegian Press Institute started arguing that Tinius Trust, the largest shareholder of Schibsted and owner of Aftenposten, should use their business influence to force Aftenposten to change one of their editorial decisions?

This is outrageous.

Remember, we have already established that Facebook is definitely a media company, and we have also established that the decision to except certain content is an editorial decision. This means Facebook has exactly the same rights of exercising editorial independence as any other media company.

I know and understand the frustration that many publishers feel about Facebook. I know that it's a problem that they command so much of people's attention. But this is an insane way of trying to deal with it, because it violates our own standards as publishers.

But we aren't done yet, because we have two more things we need to talk about. One is the problem of political lobbying disguised as journalism. The other thing is the much more important topic of what people actually want Facebook to be.

Political lobbyism

What I do mean by political lobbyism? Well, one thing we have seen done repeatedly in Europe is how European press are running a political campaign against Facebook (and Google). But instead of being open about it, it's often done disguised as journalism, and what happened last week is no exception.

Here is how it works:

Aftenposten and every newspaper in Europe knows what type of content Facebook allows or not. They know that they don't allow naked pictures of children, and especially very disturbing ones, and they know that if you post one anyway, Facebook will step in and block it.

You know this.

So, when Aftenposten decided to post this picture, they knew this would be how Facebook responded. In others words, this was a staged protest.

I'm not saying that they specifically planned it in detail, nor that they had 'war meetings' about it ahead of time. But this is definitely part of an ongoing campaign to lobby against Facebook.

Not long ago, Schibsted's CEO called for Norwegian companies to 'unite in the battle against Google and Facebook'.

So when Schibsted issued a press release supporting Aftenposten's 'outrage', he said:

Independent media is the foundation for democracy. Therefore, it's clear that we are very critical of Facebook trying to stop Aftenposten from publishing one of the most important photos of our time. It is not acceptable. Facebook's censorship is an attack on the freedom of expression - and therefore on democracy.

There are several aspects of Facebook's position that we worry about. They are capturing more than NOK 1.5 billion from the Norwegian advertising market. Of this they pay - along with Google - only crumbs in taxes back to society. Schibsted Media Group believes it is very important that the Norwegian media industry now gather to create an independent alternative to the American giants' enormous power in the advertising market.

Notice the part about taxes? It's a common tactic by European media companies to influence politicians, and it has nothing to do with the picture. And Aftenposten's Editor recently called for the same thing.

Aftenposten's editor Espen Egil Hansen hopes that the EU issues similar tax claims against Facebook and Google, writes the newspaper Klassekampen. Several Norwegian media companies consider the two IT giants as their main competitors.

So, what happened last week wasn't really about this picture. This was part of an ongoing campaign for one media company to attack another media company. They say it's about freedom of speech and democracy... but that's not the full story.

This thing was mostly about market share. It was about Facebook growing so big that it's threatening the traditional media industry or, as many other journalists sometimes write, how they 'steal publishers' advertising income'.

Mind you, it's not saying that Schibsted's future strategy is wrong. It's not. As a media analyst and consultant, I'm constantly advising my readers and clients to create a living outside of Facebook. One very interesting approach to this is for publishers to team up to create places where news is what defines the moment.

I absolutely agree with Schibsted's CEO that Norwegian companies should unite towards this goal. All of Scandinavia's media should do that. I have written about this many times.

The problem isn't the goal, but the approach. The problem is that the media is trying to make this happen by engaging in extremely one-sided political lobbyism against a competitor while pretending that they are doing journalism. You are hiding your real intentions and business interests towards your readers, and trying to get politicians to support your own business interests.

And, speaking of politicians, that's even worse:

I want you to imagine this phone call between a journalist from Aftenposten and a politician. I don't think this ever happened, but imagine that it did.

Journalist: "Hello, I'm a journalist from Aftenposten. Have you heard that Facebook has censored an important historical picture defining how we think about war in one of our posts... all just because a child in it was naked? What do you think about that?"

Politician: "OMG... yes! That doesn't sound right. I'm outraged too!... Mmmm... here is an idea. Why don't I have a press conference where I will hold up this picture and say how shocked I am."

Journalist: "Oh yes, that would be brilliant!"

As I said, I don't think that anyone actually had this conversation, but this was kind of what happened. The Norwegian Prime Minister held a press conference holding up this picture to the delight of the Norwegian press.

And of course she did.

It was an incredibly easy way for her to score some really cheap brownie points with the press, and also score some free votes. Because she joined this 'staged' protest, she got the best press coverage she has ever had in her career as a politician.

And Aftenposten reported this story under 'culture', again pretending that they were just doing normal journalism.

I'm sorry, people. This isn't right. You are running a political lobbying campaign disguised as journalism. And you are trying to form the public opinion against 'your biggest competitor' so that you can win back some of your lost market share.

And worse than that, you are not making your intentions or reasons clear to your readers... and they know it.

The reason why this is so important is because of one thing: the declining confidence in news.

This graph is from the US, but trend is the same all over the western world. People's trust in news is in a constant decline, and it's one of the biggest problems we have today.

If your audience don't trust you, you don't have a newspaper. Trust is critical to our future success... but the media keeps shooting itself in the foot.

And one of many examples of this is what happened last week. When you write highly critical articles about Facebook, everyone knows that you are not making your real intentions and concerns clear.

As I said, I agree with Schibsted that they need to team up to create a world outside of Facebook. But doing it by engaging in political lobbying disguised as journalism is one of the things that cause a drop in confidence.

Please stop this. You are hurting not just yourself, but every one of us in the industry.

What do people want from Facebook?

Finally, we come to the most important point. It's about the whole discussion of how important it is that people see this image, and what people actually want from Facebook. Because this is where pretty much everyone in the media industry completely missed the point.

To look at this, we again need to talk about the editorial purpose and what Facebook really is.

Many people complain that Facebook is being very secretive about how it works, and that's true in some cases, But in terms of overall focus, Facebook has been incredibly transparent about its intentions.

For one thing, we have the Community Standard, which it outlines what it accepts and not, which is much more detailed than the standards defined by any media company. Secondly, it has openly explained just what Facebook is.

As they say:

FRIENDS AND FAMILY COME FIRST - Facebook was built on the idea of connecting people with their friends and family. That is still the driving principle of News Feed today. Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to - starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook. That's why if it's from your friends, it's in your feed, period - you just have to scroll down. To help make sure you don't miss the friends and family posts you are likely to care about, we put those posts toward the top of your News Feed. We learn from you and adapt over time. For example, if you tend to like photos from your sister, we'll start putting her posts closer to the top of your feed so you won't miss what she posted while you were away.

This is Facebook's editorial focus. It very, very clearly says that it is 'friends and family first'. It's not about newspapers. It's not about the war in Syria. It's not about rapes or gun shootings in the US.

Facebook is like Coca Cola. It's main focus is to be the happiness factory for the whole family. Or maybe another way to think about Facebook is to compare it to Disney. And it's because of this focus that it has become such a massive success.

They are very clearly saying that it's a channel for 'positive social engagement - focused on family and friends first'.

So what does Aftenposten think Facebook should be? Well, as they explain in their article about them:

The free and independent media have an important task in bringing information, even including pictures, which sometimes may be unpleasant, and which the ruling elite and maybe even ordinary citizens cannot bear to see or hear, but which might be important precisely for that reason.

You see the problem?

Facebook's editorial purpose is pretty much the exact opposite of Aftenposten's editorial purpose. You cannot get any further apart than this.

And this is exactly why we have so many conflicts between traditional newspapers and Facebook. You are completely missing the point about what Facebook is. You think Facebook is the be-all, end-all channel for everything, and because of that, you demand that they adopt the same mass-market editorial focus we see with newspapers.

But that's not what Facebook is. Facebook is not a channel for everything. It never was, and it never will be.

What's even more important is to think about this from a user perspective and ask what they want.

Think about it like this. When you wake up tomorrow morning and you reach out for your phone to check Facebook, what kind of experience would you like to have?

Would you,

A: Want to have a friends and family first experience focused on positive social engagement?

Or...

B: Want to have see information and pictures that are unpleasant to the point where you cannot bear to see or hear them?

Right?

Nobody would ever choose the second option. It's absolutely insane for Aftenposten to even suggest that this is what Facebook must allow.

But, wait-a-minute, you say. Those issues are important. People need to see them.

I'm sorry, but no. That's not how the real world works. What people choose to see is a choice that people make, and we choose to watch different types of information at different times. You cannot force content upon people. You do not have that right.

This is true not just today, but also in the past. In the 1980s, people would choose what they wanted to read. When they went down to their newsstand, they made a choice whether to buy Aftenposten or a lifestyle magazine.

You would never suggest that a lifestyle magazine *must* publish that picture, because that's not why people read it, nor does it fit that type of moment.

So no. Facebook has no obligation to publish that picture just because you think it's important. You are trying to force Facebook to be something it is not.

Facebook is like a lifestyle magazine. But it's not defined by any specific topics, it's defined by moments. When people are having a Facebook moment, they generally don't want to see a picture of a naked girl frantically running away from napalm bombs.

It's not Facebook that is wrong here, it's us.

Aftenposten tried to publish a picture that didn't fit. It was the wrong content, for the wrong channel, for the wrong type of moment. Or as they say, you are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It doesn't matter how important you think it is, because Facebook is not that type of channel. It doesn't matter that the politicians think it's important either, because they too don't understand what Facebook is.

And BTW: this isn't just true for Facebook. It's true for your own newspapers as well.

A couple of years ago, Amedia, the second largest publisher in Norway, did a study about what young people think about the news they see (sorry, the link I have no longer works). This was what they found:

  • 95% thought the news was irrelevant to them
  • 80% thought journalists were too focused on sensational stories
  • 70% thought journalists were too focused on the negatives
  • 86% thought journalists were misleading them

Yeah... that's pretty bad.

So, we don't really have the right to dictate what Facebook should focus on. Because if Facebook were to listen to publishers in defining their editorial focus, it would go out of business.

Can you imagine a newspaper editor storming into Mark Zuckerberg's office telling him that:

You must help us publish articles that people don't really care about, that are too sensational, and mostly negative... with pictures that people cannot bear to see or hear!

Can you imagine how Mark would respond to that? He would look at you as if you were some kind of alien. For what possible reason would Mark listen to you?

It's not that the picture isn't important, or that it isn't important for society as a whole to hear about it. It's that you are trying to put a square peg into a round hole. You are trying to force people to consume hard news when they are having different type of moment.

As the BBC explained when they talked about what works on Facebook or not:

The results backed our editorial intuition by showing the page's fans, the majority of whom are aged 16-24, wanted the Match of the Day Facebook account to be knowledgeable, cheeky and irreverent, and mirror the tone of the TV presenting team during the lighter moments of our broadcasts. We began to change how we wrote posts but it was a work in progress. We looked deeply at our analytics to refine the style, execution and also guide when to post and how often.

This had a profound effect. In September 2014 we had 35,000 referrals a week from the page. In the equivalent week in September 2015, this figure was 3.7 million.

In other words, what defines Facebook is 'the lighter moments', with knowledgeable, cheeky and sometimes irreverent content.

Trying to force people into having a very serious hard news moment on Facebook is not a winning strategy.

Even if you can force Facebook to do it, which Aftenposten kind of did last week by having the photo reinstated, you are still losing the war here. Because people don't want Facebook to be about this.

You are fighting the wrong war.

Facebook is not your future

The reality today is this:

Facebook is a media company, not just by their own actions, but also by the demands that we place upon them. As a media company, it has the same rights (and obligations) to define their own editorial purpose, and it has done so by defining itself as a friend and family first channel.

This means that Facebook isn't a channel for everything, but also that it is a rented channel, because we are operating within an 'edited space'.

If you as a newspaper can contribute to that, Facebook can be an amazing partnership. If your content is slightly outside of this scope, then Facebook might still be a good channel for mostly unintentional traffic (which is how most news is consumed on Facebook) . But if your content falls outside of this, Facebook is not the right channel to be on.

So, the questions that we must ask are these:

  • What is the future of hard news?
  • What type of intent do people have when they want to consume hard news?
  • What type of channel do we need to create to match that intent and that experience?
  • How should the content be focused and designed?
  • What type of moment does all of this fit into? And when is that moment?
  • And most importantly, how would that be monetized?

As Schibsted CEO says, Norway's publishers need to join forces around hard news. I agree.

But it's not because of Facebook, nor because you can't publish a shocking picture. You need to do it because right now, we don't have a good moment for news on any channel.

We cannot force Facebook to be that moment, because it isn't. And it doesn't matter how much we yell at them. We need to invent our own moment.

Why, for instance, haven't the media industry come together to create something like Google News? Why haven't we formed a news network backed up by email newsletters like what we see with Nuzzel? Why didn't we create Blendle?

Why didn't we start to actually use the data we have to understand our audiences, instead of shoving them into dashboards?

Why is it that every time we look at a study about what people think about newspapers, they come out illustrating that we are completely out of touch with our markets?

You see what I'm talking about here? We are fighting the wrong war, and it's making everything worse.

But, you say, Facebook is huge and it's dominating everything. How can we compete with that?

Well, let me tell you a secret. Facebook isn't that important. Yes, it sounds insane, but I can prove it.

Head over to YouTube and ask any of the successful serious YouTubers (those who aren't focusing on shallow entertainment) what they think about Facebook. What they will all tell you is that Facebook isn't that important to them. It's a nice channel for marketing and conversations and the occasional reach, but it's not defining their businesses.

The reason is that the moment you have on YouTube is entirely different from the moment you have on Facebook. What works well on Facebook doesn't really work well on YouTube, and vice versa (as I wrote about here).

Facebook is incredibly big within the moment of having a quick break for a positive social engagement. And within that one moment, Facebook is absolutely dominating everything, along with Instagram and Snapchat. But it's not the only moment people have.

People have one moment on Facebook, another on YouTube, yet another on Netflix, another when they are using Google Search, another moment when they are consuming information related to their work, another when they are listening to podcasts, and so forth.

The reason why the media industry is failing is because everyone thinks that Facebook is the only moment that exists. But it's not the only moment, nor is it the only model. And hard news is pretty much the opposite of the Facebook moment.

We are fighting the wrong war here, for all the wrong reasons.

The solution for everyone of us is to find and define our own moments, and to persuade people to join us there. We need to stop wasting our time by trying to do something that everyone knows is never going to work.

Nobody wants Facebook to be a place for naked children running away from napalm bombs in old historical photos. It's not the right time or place.

He said, she said

Let me summarize the problem here.

Facebook is very openly telling us that it doesn't want to be a platform for everything. Instead, it wants the be a niche channel with a friends and family first focus. It's also telling us that within this channel, it wants to focus on a specific type of content where people DON'T have to see posts about threats, injury, dangerous organizations, bullying, harassment, attacks, criminal activity, sexual violence, nudity, hate speech and other types of violence.

This is what Facebook is, they say. It a platform where you can feel safe from all of those things, and where can just focus on having an amazing social interaction with things that you care about.

Meanwhile, the newspapers are storming in and demanding that Facebook should be something completely different.

You are demanding that Facebook SHOULD be a channel about everything. You are demanding that you should be allowed to post articles about people making threats against each other. You say you should be allowed to post stories about rape, crime, hate speech and all other types of violence that is happening in the world. And you even go so far as to demand that Facebook should publish a photo of a naked girl running away from napalm.

I'm sorry, newspapers. I fully understand and often share the frustration and the problems we are faced with today. But it's not Facebook that is wrong here. It's us. We are the ones who are in the wrong place.

The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can move on and focus on the real future of news.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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