Zuckerberg says Facebook will never be a media company—despite controlling the world’s media

What is a media company really?
What is a media company really?
Image: AP Photo/Manu Fernadez
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Facebook may control much of the world’s media, but founder Mark Zuckerberg said it is not a media company and never will be.

“We are a tech company, not a media company,” Zuckerberg told university students in Italy, after he was asked whether the company planned to become a news organization. ”We build the tools. We do not produce any content,” he elaborated at Rome’s Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali, according to the Associated Press.

Zuckerberg’s statement raises the question: What, exactly, is a media company these days?

Facebook doesn’t generate its own original content, but it does do a lot of things that make it look not too different from other media organizations.

For example, it is very much in the business of distributing content, with Instant Articles and Facebook Live video. The social network has deals with nearly 140 media companies and celebrities (paywall) to make videos for Facebook Live. And it’s courting TV companies and sports leagues (paywall) like the National Football League.

It’s not the only technology company doing so. Twitter and millennial-centric messaging app Snapchat are also pushing hard into live video and partnering with content owners to grow their businesses. They’re all cutting distribution deals for the rights to air other publishers’ content—not unlike what TV networks and other media companies have done for ages with syndication and licensed content.

More broadly, Facebook also has a lot of influence over what other organizations cover and how. The social network provides certain stories with enormous exposure in the Trending bar of its homepage, which was once manned by editorial contractors but, for better or worse, is now populated by algorithms and vetted by engineers.

Facebook’s algorithms governing which posts are promoted prominently on the social network’s news feeds also have an effect on publishers, who get a large share of their traffic from the platform. The company alters its algorithms regularly and each change affects how publishers approach and promote stories. For example, earlier this month, Facebook announced a tweak to its news feed algorithm designed to bury clickbait and aggregated posts.

In a sense, the algorithms are curating the content that’s on Facebook news feeds, almost like media companies curate their content libraries or TV channel lineups.

Facebook may never create its own content, but perhaps that’s not the best way to define a “media company” anymore. It may not be a label that Facebook aspires to, but based on the moves the company is making, it’s one that may apply.