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We are not here to save you: A resurgent Facebook warns publishers

Facebook is constantly changing and not dependable,” announced the global head of news partnerships at Facebook, Campbell Brown, addressing an auditorium full of publishing executives in New York.

Facebook cannot be the entire solution to your problems.”

The social network is not here to save publishers. Facebook couldn’t be any clearer about that. A sudden expression of strong sentiments from the social media behemoth.

But why now? Let’s rewind.

This Monday, Facebook turned 15, riding high on strong fourth-quarter financial results that beat analyst expectations for earnings and revenue. In spite of grappling with what was arguably the worst year in its history, Facebook shrugged it off with a record quarterly profit of nearly $7 billion (a massive 61% up from the same quarter in 2017) and an annual profit soaring 39% to $22 billion.

Facebook now has 2.3 billion active monthly users worldwide. Its usage metrics grew across all geographic regions, including Europe and North America, where it was expected that the growth might plateau, or the social network may even lose users.

After a year of bad news, the tide seems to be turning for Facebook. And in spite of an expected crackdown from privacy regulators, Facebook got away with a symbolic fine for the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Just like its usage metrics, Facebook is on a rebound. And this resurgent Facebook is far more willing to call a spade a spade, without mincing words.

So while just last month, Facebook committed $300 million to support news publishers (the same amount committed last year by the Google News Initiative) Brown was quite categorical that this was not something that would help publishers in the long term.

A lasting business model is not a big tech company writing a check whenever it feels like it.

Campbell Brown, head of global news partnerships at Facebook

Brown had a similar sobering message for publishers who had upended their business models and pivoted to video, eventually losing a massive number of eyeballs once Facebook changed it’s algorithm fundamentally at the beginning of last year.

We don’t reward those things anymore,” Brown said.

Quite a curt response, considering how instrumental Facebook was behind publishers changing their editorial strategies, not to mention Mark Zuckerberg’s confident declarations then, that within five years Facebook would primarily consist of video.

Nevertheless, such unambiguously explicit and direct responses are what we might expect to get from Facebook going forward—now that it has managed the metaphorical feat of walking on hot coals for a year, and appears quite unscathed at the end of it all—a change of narrative exemplified by the exit of Facebook’s head of communications Caryn Marooney.

It wasn’t all fire and brimstone, though.

Brown also talked about Facebook features meant to help publishers, like subscription tools designed to get more readers to pay for content. She also provided some insights into Facebook’s initiatives for helping news organizations learn more about their audiences, like developing better metrics.

At a time when Facebook’s global crackdown on information operations is getting more intense, Brown also reiterated their commitment to counteracting disinformation on the platform, sayingWe are cleaning up this platform, we are not going back to clickbait and sensationalism.”

From all that she said, this might be the biggest takeaway for publishers. If Facebook is successful in rooting out the bad guys—something they seem to be getting better at doing—it will clear the field for legitimate publishers to thrive. For those who are good at their game, that might just be enough.