It was a small step, perhaps, but still a noteworthy one. After months of denying that Facebook is a media company, Mark Zuckerberg admitted in a recent one-on-one interview with his COO, Sheryl Sandberg, that the social network actually is a media company—although not a traditional one.
For years, Zuckerberg has argued that Facebook is just a simple technology platform, one that distributes content created by others, using an impersonal and objective algorithm. In other words, not a media company. And certainly not an “arbiter of truth,” as he put it.
That position has been getting increasingly difficult to defend, however, as Facebook has been paying media companies to create content and planning to develop its own TV-style shows. Not only that, but the social network has also borne part of the blame for the rise of “fake news,” and has recently announced plans to try and help stamp out the problem.
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In his interview, Zuckerberg said Facebook “is not a traditional media company,” since it doesn’t write the news that appears on the platform. But he admitted that the network “does a lot more than just distribute news, and we’re an important part of the public discourse.”
That’s a significant move for the Facebook founder, given his past intransigence on the subject. To admit that the company plays a significant role in the way that people consume information, and that this role isn’t just as a distributor of news, suggests that he is willing to at least consider what kinds of responsibilities Facebook might have.
Given the vast numbers of people who use Facebook daily, and the similarly large numbers of users who get a lot of their news there, it’s incumbent on Zuckerberg to be part of the conversation around how to fix the “fake news” problem. So it’s nice to see that he is prepared to admit that Facebook has some duty to the public discourse. Now he needs to follow through on that.