Facebook says the future is private messaging, not public posts

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Facebook temporarily removed several ads by senator Elizabeth Warren calling for the break up of large tech companies including the social media giant. Pictured: Warren talking about her tech company proposals on Saturday at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas

“The future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won’t stick around forever.” – CJR Editors mingram@cjr.org via mailchimpapp.net 

On Wednesday, in what seemed like a major shift, Mark Zuckerberg wrote that he wants to reorient Facebook around private, encrypted, and ephemeral messaging, rather than public sharing. This could have significant implications not just for regulators, who have been trying to get Facebook to crack down on offensive and violent content, but also for the future of news and information—including misinformation.

In the past, Zuckerberg has said that his aim was to connect people and make it easier for them to share. And in part because of how Facebook’s advertising engine works, the focus has been on making as much of that sharing as public as possible. But Zuckerberg seems to have changed his views. “As I think about the future of the internet, I believe a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today’s open platforms,” he wrote. “The future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won’t stick around forever.”

More than ever before, Zuckerberg seemed to admit there have been downsides to Facebook’s emphasis on public sharing, including “child exploitation, terrorism and extortion.” He may have been pushed to this realization by the ongoing firestorm of criticism Facebook has received—not just because of the 2016 elections, but also owing to its role in promoting violence in Myanmar, India, and elsewhere. This new commitment to privacy, however, comes with trade-offs, since a more private Facebook is less subject to public scrutiny—and that could make misinformation more difficult to track.

In focusing on the private and ephemeral, Zuckerberg appears to be embracing the model he borrowed (or stole) from Snapchat, which pioneered self-destructing posts in 2011 and turned down a $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook two years later. Since then, Facebook has implemented Snapchat-like features in WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger.

“The future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won’t stick around forever.”

More than ever before, Zuckerberg seemed to admit there have been downsides to Facebook’s emphasis on public sharing, including “child exploitation, terrorism and extortion.” He may have been pushed to this realization by the ongoing firestorm of criticism Facebook has received—not just because of the 2016 elections, but also owing to its role in promoting violence in Myanmar, India, and elsewhere. This new commitment to privacy, however, comes with trade-offs, since a more private Facebook is less subject to public scrutiny—and that could make misinformation more difficult to track.

In focusing on the private and ephemeral, Zuckerberg appears to be embracing the model he borrowed (or stole) from Snapchat, which pioneered self-destructing posts in 2011 and turned down a $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook two years later. Since then, Facebook has implemented Snapchat-like features in WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger.

Is Facebook making changes because they are better for users, or because they make life easier for Facebook?

If hateful or violent content will soon appear in private rather than public messages, does that mean the company is no longer liable for the spread of that content?

The latter question has already come up in India, where much of the violence driven by WhatsApp has been fueled by messages posted in private groups.

When it comes to journalism, Facebook’s reorientation seems to take it even further away from being the kind of public distribution outlet many media companies have come to rely on. Although the fruit Facebook offered to publishers may have been poisoned, the reach—and, in some cases, ad revenue—it provided has become a staple of many media business models. Will private sharing mark the end of Facebook’s supposed commitment to helping journalism?

Here’s more on Facebook’s announcement and the reaction to it:

Since then, Facebook has implemented Snapchat-like features in WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger.
The latter question has already come up in India, where much of the violence driven by WhatsApp has been fueled by messages posted in private groups.

When it comes to journalism, Facebook’s reorientation seems to take it even further away from being the kind of public distribution outlet many media companies have come to rely on. Although the fruit Facebook offered to publishers may have been poisoned, the reach—and, in some cases, ad revenue—it provided has become a staple of many media business models. Will private sharing mark the end of Facebook’s supposed commitment to helping journalism?

Here’s more on Facebook’s announcement and the reaction to it:

  • Soiled culture: Recode founder Kara Swisher wrote on Twitter that it’s a bit rich for Zuckerberg to suddenly get religion about privacy. “I love that he declares this privacy thing might matter after being a big part of the soiling of online culture with sloppy public sharing tools,” says Swisher. New York Times writer Jon Herrman made a related point, noting that Zuckerberg is now arguing against the very norms of behavior—open, transparent, public—that he promoted for the past decade or so.
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