In this column piece, Fortune magazine’s Matthew Ingram says Facebook may be a great place to post pictures of a cute kitten, but at its heart it’s a media company. And like all media companies it wants to make dollars by pandering to its advertisers first and foremost…
At its heart Facebook is a media company, and media companies cater to advertisers, not users.
If there’s one battle that has crystallized a lot of the fear and uncertainty around the media business recently, it’s the fight over ad blocking. Most publishers see it as nothing less than an existential threat to their way of life, and they view users who do it as traitors and thieves. And now they have a powerful ally in that war—namely, the world’s largest social network.
There was a lot of obfuscation in Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, but the bottom line is that the social-networking behemoth has short-circuited the way that ad blockers function, by removing all the indicators that tell ad-blocking software what is an ad and what isn’t. The end result is that users will no longer be able to block ads on its site.
Not surprisingly, advertisers and publishers were overjoyed to have Facebook in their corner. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) said the social network“should be applauded for its leadership on preserving a vibrant value exchange with its users,” and the Newspaper Association of America said it should be “a wake-up call for any publishers who haven’t taken ad-blocking seriously so far.”
For months, publishers have been trying to find ways to combat the rise of ad blocking. Some have taken to using popups that ask users to “whitelist” the site, while others have blocked anyone using ad-blocking software from reading anything on their pages. New York Times editor Mark Thompson said recently that the paper planned to step up the fight because “no one who refuses to contribute to the creation of high quality journalism has the right to consume it.”
Facebook, meanwhile, tried hard to argue that it isn’t blocking ads just because they make the network billions of dollars in revenue. Andrew Bosworth, the VP in charge of advertising and business use of the platform, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the decision “isn’t motivated by inventory. We’re doing it more for the principle of the thing.”
That’s a noble sentiment. But which principle is Facebook trying to uphold exactly? The company says that advertising is “part of the Facebook experience,” and it is rolling out tools to help users choose what kinds of ads they see. But ultimately, it has decided that advertisers are more important than users.