The Zuckerberg Democracy

As Facebook looks to roll out changes to its news feed, Matt Gillow examines the effect pilot schemes have had on emerging democracies.

As Facebook launches plans, in six countries, to ban major media outlets from news feeds, the states involved are lamenting the effects on their already fragile democracies.

Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Bolivia, Cambodia, Serbia and Slovakia are the countries where the scheme is getting trialled - and overnight key media outlets have lost their major audiences. A Guatemalan journalist noted to the Guardian that 'the changes lost websites 66% of their traffic.'

The changes hit smaller publishers the hardest; as with a lower reach they may struggle to pay distribution. It goes without saying that this is to the detriment of democracy - which is only emerging in many of the affected countries. Shutting down the free press has been described as 'downright Orwellian' and appears hugely irresponsible. Efforts to control the media will surely only serve to fuel the fires of the anti-Zuckerberg brigade, who worry that the Facebook CEO is accumulating too much power.

The main concern for publishers is that, for many users who are new to consuming political content - social media is their primary source. We certainly did see this phenomenon in the UK during the 2017 election - with social media acting as the key battleground - lauded as one of many reasons why Labour were able to stage a phenomenal comeback in the polls. 

Many feel as if Facebook is staging a crackdown on independent media - which is vital to building a stable democracy. Once again, Facebook seems to be focussing on its bottom line - rolling out projects in areas which will affect it least, without considering the expense changes will have on those countries systems.