NONPROFITS MUST MAKE PLANS TO RECLAIM THEIR IDENTITY IN LIGHT OF REACTIONARY FACEBOOK FLEX

Bullying, harassment and misinformation are sadly all commonplace on social media. Many of those subjected to it and ultimately report it are often ignored and those who perpetrated it continue to roam around the platform without punishment.

There is no doubt that those who run these companies are running with an empathy deficit which was on full display recently when Facebook recently blocked the ability for its Australian users and organizations to share and view news in response to proposed legislation from the Federal Government that would push digital platforms to pay news publishers for content.

This move from Facebook was reactionary and ultimately without prior warning. It’s interpretation of the legislation meant that the pages of essential government services and nonprofits found themselves affected. 

It’s ironic that those NGO’s that provide essential support to those affected by bullying and harassment, often through these channels were swept up in this ban. The fact that it happened so quick, while safety and privacy concerns remain unanswered show that it wasn’t the fact that they couldn’t act, it was ultimately that they didn’t care. 

The Australian government has not backed down to this posturing from Facebook and nor should it. Other countries are sure to follow this regulatory crack down too, so what does that mean for nonprofits and nonprofit journalism and will history look back on this as the turning point for internet users who generate content to take ownership of it or ultimately be remunerated for it.

The first consideration must be for nonprofits. If anything should be learned from this debacle it’s that you can’t depend on a third party platform as your primary communication tool, the reality is that you could lose it all in an instant. 

Building on rented land is never a strong investment and that’s why it’s more advantageous to have your website as the genesis for all your content and share it out from there. Why? Because you own it. 

The latest Global NGO Technology Report shared that 80% of NGO’s have a website with 48% of those having a blog. 90% say they regularly use social media and that 84% use Facebook for a variety of reasons of which I understand and would recommend as part of a strong marketing mix. However Facebook continues to change and with it so does the effectiveness of ads, a lot more work needs to occur now to yield the same results as nonprofits used to yield a few years back.

I’m really interested too in what this means for journalism and how philanthropy needs to play a role in strengthening informed investigative reporting now, rather than dealing with the fallout of this issue when it comes to an inevitable fever pitch (when America and the EU decide to engage in this issue).

The proposed law boils down to whether big tech companies such as Facebook and Google should pay publishers when their stories show up on social media feeds or in search results.

Journalism, as we know it, is under attack. Whether it be dangerous rhetoric around its motives from DC or a dramatic shift in the traditional revenue models, we are seeing major layoffs in staff, the consolidation of local publications and moves from for-profit entities to a non-profit model (for those not currently a viable venture capital acquisition option).

Facebook’s actions therefore were a clear signal that paid journalism is not part of its business model and reaffirming concerns that big tech companies are operating with unfettered power. A recent U.S. News & World Report Survey saw 74% of respondents say tech should see their powers limited. In an interesting spin, the survey which was released a month prior to Facebook’s decision, had its strongest sentiment to this issue from Australian respondents who came in at 87%.

Philanthropy is acutely aware of the need to keep quality, independent media outlets operating at the hyperlocal, municipal and state levels and have a long history of also fueling new innovation, as the sector is uprooted by the changes in how folks get and digest their news. (The Knight Foundation is a great pioneering example of this.) Philanthropic institutions have plenty of possibilities in evolving from traditional marcom (marketing and communications) approaches as they lend their voice to critical issues in their community, with their own virtual newsrooms setting the table for critical civic discussions. So yes, we could start seeing journalists employed by foundations as a way to shield integrity in reporting.

The final question that these recent events raised for me was around user data and the potential battles over its ownership and value, with the rise and commercialization of AI sure to be the turning point. 

The catalyst for this has lines that can be drawn back to the recent Congressional repeal of historic FCC installed privacy protections, which gives Internet Service Providers (ISPs) an easier path to collecting and selling you web browsing info and app usage. But it’s not the repeal that will set the wheels in motion for this revolution. Instead, it will be the inevitable push back from consumers wanting to take back control of their own data, especially in a world where their digital footprint has real monetary worth for business yet they do not share in its inherent value. 

Legislation could then be introduced (or the Supreme Court could rule in favor of an individual or group) that will duly recognize the private ownership of an individual’s digital activities, actions, and communications. Once people are in control of their data then they will then be in a position to sell these unique data sets themselves. This is when things get disproportionately interesting and valuable. But let’s be honest you won’t be making tens of thousands of dollars from all those hours you tweeted that witty subtweet to a new nonprofit hiring report.

Personal data marketplaces will soon become commonplace online and will facilitate the selling of data to interested parties which will then feed the platforms of the future. These marketplaces are now popping up online (platforms such as DataCoup and CitizenMe) but are not at a stage of maturation where individuals are partnered with retailers, banks, and your local nonprofit. But imagine a place where your bank accounts, social media and windows/chrome extensions are linked via an API to generate your own unique profile. Then, using this profile, you will learn what your data says about you and the ability to choose what and who you want to sell your information to.

While the introduction of AI to nonprofits will be revolutionary in itself, in the end it might be AI that helps us crack the code to help wean us off our unhealthy relationships and dependence of social media platforms and back to focusing on doing our core work effectively to support those in need and advance the common good. This incident won’t be going away anytime soon, and the fallout will be significant especially as we transition out of a pandemic that has left us feeling more disconnected than ever before despite folks being just one click away.

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