Our old friend Zuck made a big deal out of the July announcement that Facebook will “invest over $1 billion to reward creators for great content they create on Facebook and Instagram through 2022.” Similar initiatives to pay for user-generated content have been launched by YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat. “Investing in creators isn’t new for us,” Zuck boasted, “but I’m excited to expand this work over time.”
For most companies, $1 billion would be a big deal. Zuck’s company, however, is worth one trillion dollars. That’s a thousand billions. And, in their most recent quarterly earnings report? Facebook made $29 billion – in just three months.
Like Google, Facebook has raked in massive profits by paying little, if anything, to the creators of content on its platform, but instead making that content easy to steal. So, when Zuckerberg says: “One Billion Dollars!” we can’t help but hear it in the voice of Doctor Evil from Austin Powers.
Let’s get real, Zuck. Your digital platform is a central component of a Big Tech machine that sucks away at least $29.2 billion and 230,000 jobs every year from American creatives large and small by making it easier to pirate their work. “One Billion Dollars!” over several years isn’t even a down payment on those losses.
Zuck’s enthusiasm is particularly difficult to take. If you want quality content, you have to let creators make a living at it! This shouldn’t be news. We’ve been making that point to Facebook, Google, and others for many years.
After destroying the value of creative content by facilitating piracy for more than a decade, Big Tech isn’t having an epiphany. It’s just realizing that its tactics are killing its golden goose of creativity. And they want to cover their tracks.
We’ve already seen the same playbook with journalism.
Facebook’s Broken Record with Journalism
In a February 2021 blog post, Facebook bragged about investing $600 million into journalism between 2018 and 2021 and spreading around another $1 billion between 2021 and 2024. Facebook touted its beneficence, even though it has grown by posting journalists’ content on its platform, and selling ads around it, all without sending the original publishers a single dime.
The truth is that Facebook and similar platforms are killing journalism. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people employed at newspapers fell from 458,000 in 1990 to 183,000 in 2016. That’s more than a quarter million jobs gone, largely because uncompensated “sharing” of news articles destroyed the advertising base of newspapers and other outlets.
Predictably, Facebook’s February post misrepresents the recent public backlash when it threatened to stop disseminating all news in Australia. Why would it even contemplate such a drastic measure, you might wonder? To retaliate against the country for passing legislation requiring fair compensation for news publishers. So where’s Facebook’s passionate commitment to journalism? If it means paying real money for content, that passion disappears.
If Facebook’s initiatives were going to save journalism in the U.S. journalists, there would be no need for legislation exempting publishers from antitrust restrictions so they can work together to negotiate for fair compensation from monopoly Big Tech platforms.
Notably, none of the money Facebook earmarked for journalism is coming from ad revenue generated off stolen news content it disseminates, according to The Wrap. Oh, and incidentally, what concessions Facebook is making appear to be largely focused abroad. They do not apply to the overwhelming majority of U.S. news publishers – let alone publishers dedicated to serving local or minority communities, The Wrap notes.
“Overall, despite their many billions and the glowing press they’ve secured for the efforts they have made, they’ve done nothing to halt, reverse or even slow the steady demise of journalism that they have otherwise, in every major respect, hastened and profited from,” former UC Berkeley Dean Ed Wasserman told The Wrap. “Their philanthropy is best understood as a cynical palliative meant to neutralize media support for the grievously overdue antitrust initiatives that they are girding up to withstand.”
So, after all but annihilating journalism, one of the many industries whose life depends on copyright, Facebook is making a few tight-fisted donations that will do almost nothing to help journalism here in the States.
The Writing on Facebook’s Wall
Here we go again. In another case of too-little-too-late, Zuckerberg is digging up some spare change for the purported purpose of encouraging original content for his platform.
The move smells suspiciously like a classic PR stunt, the type where Facebook announces something it’s doing for the good of mankind, in order to obscure the very real harm it’s actually doing.
As with their journalism ploy, there is no reason to expect that Facebook’s grandiose “creativity initiative” will be any less of a mirage when it comes to promoting creativity and stemming piracy.
In fact, Facebook is only willing to pay “One Billion Dollars!” for content that is exclusive to its platform. Zuck’s not agreeing to compensate people whose work for other outlets is pirated on his platform because it’s the right thing to do. Instead, he is facing a bit of new competition from TikTok, YouTube, and Snapchat, so he wants to pay for some original stuff that looks like theirs. Meanwhile, huge amounts of piracy will continue on Facebook, and hundreds of thousands of creatives will keep losing billions and billions of dollars even as some creators of exclusive Facebook content make a few dimes.
The creativity scheme certainly isn’t fooling Gen Z, a demographic that Facebook hungers to reach. As one author described the plan, “[i]t’s not so much a way to ‘reward’ as it is a play for more creative economy market share. But after living through the company’s constant privacy and political scandals, a $1 billion creator fund isn’t going to get Gen Z back on Facebook. To us, Facebook is cheugy and a money sucking ad machine.”
Well, Facebook’s cheugy to us, too. But without an alternative platform on which to promote our blogs, we at CreativeFuture are forced to live with cheugy-ness, even as we continue to demand accountability from the same platform we post to (because we have no choice). Believe us, if a real competitor to Facebook were to emerge, one that allows us to reach all of our friends and grow our base of supporters, we’d be the first to sign up.
While we wait for that day to come, Zuck, call us when the day comes that you actually respect creativity, and that you’re truly committed to supporting creative livelihoods. We’ll be here to tell you where to put your advertising revenue from April, May, and June of this year – all 29 billion dollars of it.
You can pay it forward to creatives whose content is on your platform, with or without their consent. Maybe then we’ll be able to take your “excitement” seriously.