Facebook Bullying Publishers Into Faustian Bargains With Instant Articles?

Some are concerned that Facebook's Instant Articles gives the company entirely too much power and is at odds with Net Neutrality.

Facebook’s Instant Articles launched last week — a partnership between the social networking giant and publishers to provide tailored content encapsulated within the Facebook app. In the wake of this announcement, there has been some criticism that Facebook wants to take control of the internet, and these claims aren’t completely without basis.

While some publishers see the new partnership as a faster and easier way to reach Facebook users, others are concerned that the agreement is at odds with Net Neutrality. Indeed, the biggest perk of this agreement is that Instant Content will load “ten times faster than standard mobile web articles.”

This is precisely the kind of arrangement Net Neutrality advocates have been fighting against. Facebook and other social media networks have already shifted to a pay-to-play system, and more and more people are turning to Facebook to find their news. How will Instant impact the balance of the publishing ecosystem?

Media analyst Michael Ingram wrote about this arrangement in March, noting that the Facebook algorithm gave the network the upper hand, particularly when it came to which content its users would see.

While Facebook could presumably use its news-feed ranking algorithm to recommend more stories and content from its partners (an aspect of the deal that other publishers are undoubtedly also thinking about), the details of whose content gets recommended and when would be totally under Facebook’s control.

But this isn’t just a concern for publishers, it’s potentially a concern for users who may not be aware of how the algorithm filters what they see.

[T]he view they have of the world is being distorted in some way, but they don’t really have any idea how or why. That’s more than a little troubling, and the new arrangement Facebook is talking about would expand that problem even further.

Beyond the filter effect, PandoDaily contributor David Holmes notes that Facebook has a history of using “bait and switch tactics.”

For many years, it was not uncommon for the platform to prioritize stories shared by news organizations in News Feeds. But as these news outlets became more and more reliant on traffic from Facebook, the platform has continued to make these stories a lower and lower priority for its algorithms, thus greatly limiting users’ exposure to them.

These are all valid concerns that Facebook will shrug off under the guise of doing what’s best for its users. But Snapchat offered publishers a similar partnership recently in the name of security and control over its internal ecosystem. The biggest question is who do these arrangements benefit most? The publishers or the networks?