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To Be Or Not To Be? The Media Tragedy of Attentional Commons on Facebook

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    • Publication Information:
      National Chengchi University, 2020.
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    • Abstract:
      The fact that news media distribute their content on Facebook in order to reach more readers and to gain more traffic back to their websites sets up a dilemma. This paper adopts the concept of the tragedy of the commons to explain why news media are aware of the concern of losing control over their content and their business, but still choose to stay on and to utilize Facebook.This paper further explores the strategies that news media adopt when facing this dilemma and investigates possible solutions to the tragedy of attentional commons on Facebook. The results herein show that the Facebook dilemma conforms to the hypothesis of the tragedy of the commons. News media are indeed willing to take the risk to partner with Facebook, because the benefit from providing free content to Facebook outweighs the cost of doing so in the short run, but not necessarily in the long run. For news publishers, sustainability is a much more pressing issue than thinking of a strategy very far out into the future. This paper argues that news publishers ignore the externality of partnering with Facebook, and that the price news publishers are likely to pay covers the loss of news and economic autonomy, because when they build their business on Facebook, if Facebook changes its rules, then these news publishers need to change accordingly. In a sense, Facebook has the power to influence news content. Two contradictions arise from the tragedy of attentional commons on Facebook. 1) News media cultivate their independence from Facebook by investing into more content and interaction with users on Facebook. 2) Producing news that only conforms to Facebook users’ interests based on an opaque algorithm fails to override something that is important but not popular among users. Overall, under the tragedy of attentional commons on Facebook, news media and consumers are paying the price, because Facebook is the only beneficiary.
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