All posts in “Social”

Where to watch Zuckerberg’s meeting with EU MEPs on Tuesday

The Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s meeting with elected representatives of the European Union’s ~500 million citizens will be livestreamed after all, it was confirmed today.

MEPs had been angered by the original closed door format of the meeting, which was announced by the EU parliament’s president last week. But on Friday a majority of the political groups in the parliament had pushed for it to be broadcast online.

This morning president Antonio Tajani confirmed that Facebook had agreed to the 1hr 15 minute hearing being livestreamed.

A Facebook spokesperson also sent us this short statement today: “We’re looking forward to the meeting and happy for it to be live streamed.”

When is the meeting?

The meeting will take place on Tuesday May 22 at 18.15 to 19.30CET. If you want to tune in from the US the meeting is scheduled to start at 9.15PT /12.15ET.

Tajani’s announcement last week said it would start earlier, at 17.45CET, so the meeting appears to have been bumped on by half an hour. We’ve asked Facebook whether Zuckerberg will meet in private with the parliament’s Conference of Presidents prior to the livestream being switched on and will update this story with any response.

Where to watch it online?

According to Tajani’s spokesperson, the meeting will be broadcast on the EU parliament’s website. At the time of writing it’s not yet listed in the EPTV schedule — but we’re expecting it to be viewable here.

Who will be meeting with Zuckerberg?

The Facebook founder will meet with EU parliament president Tajani, along with leaders of the parliament’s eight political groups, and with Claude Moraes, the chair of the EU parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee.

It’s worth noting that the meeting is not a formal hearing, such as the sessions with Zuckerberg in the US Senate and Congress last month. Nor is it a full Libe committee hearing — discussions remain ongoing for Facebook representatives to meet with the full Libe committee at a later date.

What will Zuckerberg be asked about?

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal, MEPs are keen to discuss concerns related to social media’s impact on election processes with Zuckerberg.

Indeed, the impact of social media spread online disinformation is also the topic of an ongoing enquiry by the UK parliament’s DCMS committee which spent some five hours grilling Facebook’s CTO last month. Although Zuckerberg has thrice declined the committee’s summons — preferring to meet with EU parliamentarians instead.

Other topics on the agenda will include privacy and data protection — with Moraes likely to ask about how Facebook’s business model impacts EU citizens’ fundamental rights, and how EU regulations might need to evolve to keep pace, as he explained to us on Friday.

Some of the political group leaders are also likely to bring up concerns around freedom of expression as pressure in the region has ramped up on online platforms to get faster at policing hate speech.

Progressive advocacy groups call on the FTC to ‘make Facebook safe for democracy’

A team of progressive advocacy groups, including MoveOn and Demand Progress, are asking the Federal Trade Commission to “make Facebook safe for democracy.” According to Axios, the campaign, called Freedom From Facebook, is set to launch a six-figure ad campaign on Monday that will run on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, among other platforms.

The other advocacy groups behind the campaign are Citizens Against Monopoly, Content Creators Coalition, Jewish Voice for Peace, Mpower Change, Open Markets Institute and SumOfUs. Together they are calling on the FTC to “break up Facebook’s monopoly” by forcing it to spin-off Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger into separate, competing companies. They also want the FTC to require interoperability so users can communicate across competing social networks and strengthen privacy regulations.

Freedom From Facebook’s site also includes an online petition and privacy guide that links to FB Purity and the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Privacy Badger, browser extensions that help users streamline their Facebook ad preferences and block online trackers, respectively.

The FTC recently gained a new chairman after President Donald Trump’s pick for the position Joseph Simons was sworn in early this month, along with four new commissioners also nominated by Trump. Simons is an antitrust lawyer who has represented large tech firms like Microsoft and Sony. The FTC is currently investigating whether or not Facebook’s involvement with Cambridge Analytica violated a previous legal agreement it had with the commission, but many people are wondering if it and other federal agencies are capable of regulating tech companies, especially after many lawmakers seemed confused about how social media works during Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional hearing last month.

Despite its data privacy and regulatory issues, Facebook is still doing well from a financial perspective. Its first-quarter earnings report showed strong user growth and revenue above Wall Street’s expectations.

TechCrunch has contacted Freedom From Facebook and Facebook for comment.

Are algorithms hacking our thoughts?

 

As Facebook shapes our access to information, Twitter dictates public opinion and Tinder influences our dating decisions, the algorithms we’ve developed to help us navigate choice are now actively driving every aspect of our lives.

But as we increasingly rely on them for everything from how we seek out news to how we relate to the people around us, have we automated the way we behave? Is human thinking beginning to mimic algorithmic processes? And is the Cambridge Analytica debacle a warning sign of what’s to come — and of happens when algorithms hack into our collective thoughts?

It wasn’t supposed to go this way. Overwhelmed by choice — in products, people and the sheer abundance of information coming at us at all times — we’ve programmed a better, faster, easier way to navigate the world around us. Using clear parameters and a set of simple rules, algorithms help us make sense of complex issues. They’re our digital companions, solving real-world problems we encounter at every step, and optimizing the way we make decisions. What’s the best restaurant in my neighborhood? Google knows it. How do I get to my destination? Apple Maps to the rescue. What’s the latest Trump scandal making the headlines? Facebook may or may not tell you.

Wouldn’t it be nice if code and algorithms knew us so well — our likes, our dislikes, our preferences — that they could anticipate our every need and desire? That way, we wouldn’t have to waste any time thinking about it: We could just read the one article that’s best suited to reinforce our opinions, date whoever meets our personalized criteria and revel in the thrill of familiar surprise. Imagine all the time we’d free up, so we could focus on what truly matters: carefully curating our digital personas and projecting our identities on Instagram.

It was Karl Marx who first said our thoughts are determined by our machinery, an idea that Ellen Ullman references in her 1997 book, Close to the Machine, which predicts many of the challenges we’re grappling with today. Beginning with the invention of the internet, the algorithms we’ve built to make our lives easier have ended up programming the way we behave.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/Lightspring

Here are three algorithmic processes and the ways in which they’ve hacked their way into human thinking, hijacking our behavior.

Product comparison: From online shopping to dating

Amazon’s algorithm allows us to browse and compare products, save them for later and eventually make our purchase. But what started as a tool designed to improve our e-commerce experience now extends much beyond that. We’ve internalized this algorithm and are applying it to other areas of our lives — like relationships.

Dating today is much like online shopping. Enabled by social platforms and apps, we browse endless options, compare their features and select the one that taps into our desires and perfectly fits our exact personal preferences. Or just endlessly save it for later, as we navigate the illusion of choice that permeates both the world of e-commerce and the digital dating universe.

Online, the world becomes an infinite supply of products, and now, people. “The web opens access to an unprecedented range of goods and services from which you can select the one thing that will please you the most,” Ullman explains in Life in Code. “[There is the idea] that from that choice comes happiness. A sea of empty, illusory, misery-inducing choice.”

We all like to think that our needs are completely unique — and there’s a certain sense of seduction and pleasure that we derive from the promise of finding the one thing that will perfectly match our desires.

Whether it’s shopping or dating, we’ve been programmed to constantly search, evaluate and compare. Driven by algorithms, and in a larger sense, by web design and code, we’re always browsing for more options. In Ullman’s words, the web reinforces the idea that “you are special, your needs are unique, and [the algorithm] will help you find the one thing that perfectly meets your unique need and desire.”

In short, the way we go about our lives mimics the way we engage with the internet. Algorithms are an easy way out, because they allow us to take the messiness of human life, the tangled web of relationships and potential matches, and do one of two things: Apply a clear, algorithmic framework to deal with it, or just let the actual algorithm make the choice for us. We’re forced to adapt to and work around algorithms, rather than use technology on our terms.

Which leads us to another real-life phenomenon that started with a simple digital act: rating products and experiences.

Quantifying people: Ratings & reviews

As with all other well-meaning algorithms, this one is designed with you and only you in mind. Using your feedback, companies can better serve your needs, provide targeted recommendations just for you and serve you more of what you’ve historically shown to like, so you can carry on mindlessly consuming it.

From your Uber ride to your Postmate delivery to your Handy cleaning appointment, nearly every real-life interaction is rated on a scale of 1-5 and reduced to a digital score.

As a society we’ve never been more concerned with how we’re perceived, how we perform and how we compare to others’ expectations. We’re suddenly able to quantify something as subjective as our Airbnb host’s design taste or cleanliness. And the sense of urgency with which we do it is incredible — you’re barely out of your Uber car when you neurotically tap all five stars, tipping with wild abandon in a quest to improve your passenger rating. And the rush of being reviewed in return! It just fills you with utmost joy.

Yes, you might be thinking of that dystopian Black Mirror scenario, or that oddly relatable Portlandia sketch, but we’re not too far off from a world where our digital score simultaneously replaces and drives all meaning in our lives.

We’ve automated the way we interact with people, where we’re constantly measuring and optimizing those interactions in an endless cycle of self-improvement. It started with an algorithm, but it’s now second nature.

As Jaron Lainier wrote in his introduction to Close to the Machine, “We create programs using ideas we can feed into them, but then [as] we live through the program. . .we accept the ideas embedded in it as facts of nature.”

That’s because technology makes abstract and often elusive, desirable qualities quantifiable. Through algorithms, trust translates into ratings and reviews, popularity equals likes and social status means followers. Algorithms create a sort of Baudrillardian simulation, where each rating has completely replaced the reality it refers to, and where the digital review feels more real, and certainly more meaningful, than the actual, real-life experience.

In facing the complexity and chaos of real life, algorithms help us find ways to simplify it; to take the awkwardness out of social interaction and the insecurity that comes with opinions and real-life feedback, and make it all fit neatly into a ratings box.

But as we adopt programming language, code and algorithms as part of our own thinking, are human nature and artificial intelligence merging into one? We’re used to thinking of AI as an external force, something we have little control over. What if the most immediate threat of AI is less about robots taking over the world, and more about technology becoming more embedded into our consciousness and subjectivity?

In the same way that smartphones became extensions of our senses and our bodies, as Marshall McLuhan might say, algorithms are essentially becoming extensions of our thoughts. But what do we do when they replace the very qualities that make us human?

And, as Lainier asks, “As computers mediate human language more and more over time, will language itself start to change?”

Image: antoniokhr/iStock

Automating language: Keywords and buzzwords

Google indexes search results based on keywords. SEO makes websites rise to the top of search results, based on specific tactics. To achieve this, we work around the algorithm, figure out what makes it tick, and sprinkle websites with keywords that make it more likely to stand out in Google’s eyes.

But much like Google’s algorithm, our mind prioritizes information based on keywords, repetition and quick cues.

It started as a strategy we built around technology, but it now seeps into everything we do — from the way we write headlines to how we generate “engagement” with our tweets to how we express ourselves in business and everyday life.

Take the buzzword mania that dominates both the media landscape and the startup scene. A quick look at some of the top startups out there will show that the best way to capture people’s attention — and investors’ money — is to add “AI,” “crypto” or “blockchain” into your company manifesto.

Companies are being valuated based on what they’re signifying to the world through keywords. The buzzier the keywords in the pitch deck, the higher the chances a distracted investor will throw some money at it. Similarly, a headline that contains buzzwords is far more likely to be clicked on, so the buzzwords start outweighing the actual content — clickbait being one symptom of that.

Where do we go from here?

Technology gives us clear patterns; online shopping offers simple ways to navigate an abundance of choice. Therefore there’s no need to think — we just operate under the assumption that algorithms know best. We don’t exactly understand how they work, and that’s because code is hidden: we can’t see it, the algorithm just magically presents results and solutions. As Ullman warns in Life in Code, “When we allow complexity to be hidden and handled for us, we should at least notice what we are giving up. We risk becoming users of components. . .[as we] work with mechanisms that we do not understand in crucial ways. This not-knowing is fine while everything works as expected. But when something breaks or goes wrong or needs fundamental change, what will we do except stand helpless in the face of our own creations?”

Cue fake news, misinformation and social media targeting in the age of Trump.

Image courtesy of Intellectual Take Out.

So how do we encourage critical thinking, how do we spark more interest in programming, how do we bring back good-old-fashioned debate and disagreement? What can we do to foster difference of opinion, let it thrive and allow it to challenge our views?

When we operate within the bubble of distraction that technology creates around us, and when our social media feeds consist of people who think just like us, how can we expect social change? What ends up happening is we operate exactly as the algorithm intended us to. The alternative is questioning the status quo, analyzing the facts and arriving at our own conclusions. But no one has time for that. So we become cogs in the Facebook machine, more susceptible to propaganda, blissfully unaware of the algorithm at work — and of all the ways in which it has inserted itself into our thought processes.

As users of algorithms rather than programmers or architects of our own decisions, our own intelligence become artificial. It’s “program or be programmed” as Douglas Rushkoff would say. If we’ve learned anything from Cambridge Analytica and the 2016 U.S. elections, it’s that it is surprisingly easy to reverse-engineer public opinion, to influence outcomes and to create a world where data, targeting and bots lead to a false sense of consensus.

What’s even more disturbing is that the algorithms we trust so much — the ones that are deeply embedded in the fabric of our lives, driving our most personal choices — continue to hack into our thought processes, in increasingly bigger and more significant ways. And they will ultimately prevail in shaping the future of our society, unless we reclaim our role as programmers, rather than users of algorithms.

EU parliament pushes for Zuckerberg hearing to be live-streamed

There’s confusion about whether a meeting between Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the European Union’s parliament — which is due to take place next Tuesday — will go ahead as planned or not.

The meeting was confirmed by the EU parliament’s president this week, and is the latest stop on Zuckerberg’s contrition tour, following the Cambridge Analytics data misuse story that blew up into a major public scandal in mid March. 

However, the discussion with MEPs that Facebook agreed to was due to take place behind closed doors. A private format that’s not only ripe with irony but was also unpalatable to a large number of MEPs. It even drew criticism from some in the EU’s unelected executive body, the European Commission, which further angered parliamentarians.

Now, as the FT reports, MEPs appear to have forced the parliament’s president, Antonio Tajani, to agree to live-streaming the event.

Guy Verhofstadt — the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats group of MEPs, who had said he would boycott the meeting if it took place in private — has also tweeted that a majority of the parliament’s groups have pushed for the event to be streamed online.

And a Green Group MEP, Sven Giegold, who posted an online petition calling for the meeting not to be held in secret — has also tweeted that there is now a majority among the groups wanting to change the format. At the time of writing, Giegold’s petition has garnered more than 25,000 signatures.

MEP Claude Moraes, chair of the EU parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee — and one of the handful of parliamentarians set to question Zuckerberg (assuming the meeting goes ahead as planned) — told TechCrunch this morning that there were efforts afoot among political group leaders to try to open up the format. Though any changes would clearly depend on Facebook agreeing to them.

After speaking to Moraes, we asked Facebook to confirm whether it’s open to Zuckerberg’s meeting being streamed online — say, via a Facebook Live. Seven hours later we’re still waiting for a response, including to a follow up email asking if it will accept the majority decision among MEPs for the hearing to be live-streamed.

The LIBE committee had been pushing for a fully open hearing with the Facebook founder — a format which would also have meant it being open to members of the public. But that was before a small majority of the parliament’s political groups accepted the council of presidents’ (COP) decision on a closed meeting.

Although now that decision looks to have been rowed back, with a majority of the groups pushing the president to agree to the event being streamed — putting the ball back in Facebook’s court to accept the new format.

Of course democracy can be a messy process at times, something Zuckerberg surely has a pretty sharp appreciation of these days. And if the Facebook founder pulls out of meeting simply because a majority of MEPs have voted to do the equivalent of “Facebook Live” the hearing, well, it’s hard to see a way for the company to salvage any face at all.

Zuckerberg has agreed to be interviewed onstage at the VivaTech conference in Paris next Thursday, and is scheduled to have lunch with French president Emmanuel Macron the same week. So pivoting to a last minute snub of the EU parliament would be a pretty high stakes game for the company to play. (Though it’s continued to deny a U.K. parliamentary committee any face time with Zuckerberg for months now.)

The EU Facebook agenda

The substance of the meeting between Zuckerberg and the EU parliament — should it go ahead — will include discussion about Facebook’s impact on election processes. That was the only substance detail flagged by Tajani in the statement on Wednesday when he confirmed Zuckerberg had accepted the invitation to talk to representatives of the EU’s 500 million citizens.

Moraes says he also intends to ask Zuckerberg wider questions — relating to how its business model impacts people’s privacy. And his hope is this discussion could help unblock negotiations around an update to the EU’s rules around online tracking technologies and the privacy of digital communications.

“One of the key things is that [Zuckerberg] gets a particular flavor of the genuine concern — not just about what Facebook is doing, but potentially other tech companies — on the interference in elections. Because I think that is a genuine, big, sort of tech versus real life and politics concern,” he says, discussing the questions he wants to ask.

“And the fact is he’s not going to go before the House of Commons. He’s not going to go before the Bundestag. And he needs to answer this question about Cambridge Analytica — in a little bit more depth, if possible, than we even saw in Congress. Because he needs to get straight from us the deepest concerns about that.

“And also this issue of processing for algorithmic targeting, and for political manipulation — some in depth questions on this.

“And we need to go more in depth and more carefully about what safeguards there are — and what he’s prepared to do beyond those safeguards.

“We’re aware of how poor US data protection law is. We know that GDPR is coming in but it doesn’t impact on the Facebook business model that much. It does a little bit but not sufficiently — I mean ePrivacy probably far more — so we need to get to a point where we understand what Facebook is willing to change about the way it’s been behaving up til now.

“And we have a real locus there — which is we have more Facebook users, and we have the clout as well because we have potential legislation, and we have regulation beyond that too. So I think for those reasons he needs to answer.”

“The other things that go beyond the obvious Cambridge Analytica questions and the impact on elections, are the consequences of the business model, data-driven advertising, and how that’s going to work, and there we need to go much more in depth,” he continues.

“Facebook on the one hand, it’s complying with GDPR [the EU’s incoming General Data Protection Regulation] which is fine — but we need to think about what the further protections are. So for example, how justified we are with the ePrivacy Regulation, for example, and its elements, and I think that’s quite important.

“I think he needs to talk to us about that. Because that legislation at the moment it’s seen as controversial, it’s blocked at the moment, but clearly would have more relevance to the problems that are currently being created.”

Negotiations between the EU parliament and the European Council to update the ePrivacy Directive — which governs the use of personal telecoms data and also regulates tracking cookies — and replace it with a regulation that harmonizes the rules with the incoming GDPR and expands the remit to include internet companies and cover both content and metadata of digital comms are effectively stalled for now, as EU Member States are still trying to reach agreement. The directive was last updated in 2009.

“When the Cambridge Analytica case happened, I was slightly concerned about people thinking GDPR is the panacea to this — it’s not,” argues Moraes. “It only affects Facebook’s business model a little bit. ePrivacy goes far more in depth — into data-driven advertising, personal comms and privacy.

“That tool was there because people were aware that this kind of thing can happen. But because of that the Privacy directive will be seen as controversial but I think people now need to look at it carefully and say look at the problems created in the Facebook situation — and not just Facebook — and then analyze whether ePrivacy has got merits. I think that’s quite an important discussion to happen.”

While Moraes believes Facebook-Cambridge Analytica could help unblock the log jam around ePrivacy, as the scandal makes some of the risks clear and underlines what’s at stake for politicians and democracies, he concedes there are still challenging barriers to getting the right legislation in place — given the fine-grained layers of complexity involved with imposing checks and balances on what are also poorly understood technologies outside their specific industry niches.

“This Facebook situation has happened when ePrivacy is more or less blocked because its proportionality is an issue. But the essence of it — which is all the problems that happened with the Facebook case, the Cambridge Analytica case, and data-driven advertising business model — that needs checks and balances… So we need to now just review the ePrivacy situation and I think it’s better that everyone opens this discussion up a bit.

“ePrivacy, future legislation on artificial intelligence, all of which is in our committee, it will challenge people because sometimes they just won’t want to look at it. And it speaks to parliamentarians without technical knowledge which is another issue in Western countries… But these are all wider issues about the understanding of these files which are going to come up.  

“This is the discussion we need to have now. We need to get that discussion right. And I think Facebook and other big companies are aware that we are legislating in these areas — and we’re legislating for more than one countries and we have the economies of scale — we have the user base, which is bigger than the US… and we have the innovation base, and I think those companies are aware of that.”

Moraes also points out that U.S. lawmakers raised the difference between the EU and U.S. data protection regimes with Zuckerberg last month — arguing there’s a growing awareness that U.S. law in this area “desperately needs to be modernized.”

So he sees an opportunity for EU regulators to press on their counterparts over the pond.

“We have international agreements that just aren’t going to work in the future and they’re the basis of a lot of economic activity, so it is becoming critical… So the Facebook debate should, if it’s pushed in the correct direction, give us a better handle on ePrivacy, on modernizing data protection standards in the US in particular. And modernizing safeguards for consumers,” he argues.

“Our parliaments across Europe are still filled with people who don’t have tech backgrounds and knowledge but we need to ensure that we get out of this mindset and start understanding exactly what the implications here are of these cases and what the opportunities are.”

In the short term, discussions are also continuing for a full meeting between the LIBE committee and Facebook.

Though that’s unlikely to be Zuckerberg himself. Moraes says the committee is “aiming for Sheryl Sandberg,” though he says other names have been suggested. No firm date has been conformed yet either — he’ll only say he “hopes it will take place as soon as possible.”

Threats are not on the agenda though. Moraes is unimpressed with the strategy the DCMS committee has pursued in trying (and so far failing) to get Zuckerberg to testify in front of the U.K. parliament, arguing threats of a summons were counterproductive. LIBE is clearly playing a longer game.

“Threatening him with a summons in UK law really was not the best approach. Because it would have been extremely important to have him in London. But I just don’t see why he would do that. And I’m sure there’s an element of him understanding that the European Union and parliament in particular is a better forum,” he suggests.

“We have more Facebook users than the US, we have the regulatory framework that is significant to Facebook — the UK is simply implementing GDPR and following Brexit it will have an adequacy agreement with the EU so I think there’s an understanding in Facebook where the regulation, the legislation and the audience is.”

“I think the quaint ways of the British House of Commons need to be thought through,” he adds. “Because I really don’t think that would have engendered much enthusiasm in [Zuckerberg] to come and really interact with the House of Commons which would have been a very positive thing. Particularly on the specifics of Cambridge Analytics, given that that company is in the UK. So that locus was quite important, but the approach… was not positive at all.”

A leaked look at Facebook’s search engine for influencer marketing

Facebook’s next money-maker could be this tool for connecting marketers to social media creators so they can team up on sponsored content Facebook ad campaigns. The Branded Content Matching search engine lets advertisers select the biographical characteristics of creators’ fans they want to reach, see stats about these audiences, and contact them to hammer out deals.

Leaked screenshots of Facebook’s promotional materials for the tool were first attained and published in german by AllFacebook.de. TechCrunch has now confirmed with Facebook the existence of the test of the search engine. Facebook first vaguely noted it would build a creator-brand tool in March, but now we know what it looks like and exactly how it works.

Even though Facebook will not actually broker or initially take a cut of the deals, the tool could equip brands with much more compelling and original marketing content. That could in turn encourage them to spend more on Facebook ads to spread that content, while also making the ads users see more entertaining and tolerable so they spend longer on the social network. By getting creators paid, even if not directly by Facebook, they’ll invest more in the quality of their content and size of their following on the app instead of with competitors.

How Facebook’s influencer marketing search engine works

A Facebook spokesperson explained the motive behind the tool like this. Facebook wants to help businesses find creators who can reach their target audience in an authentic way, while allowing creators a path to monetizing their Facebook content and fan base. Creators opt in to participating in the test and set up a portfolio showcasing their audience size and metrics plus their best branded content. Facebook is starting the program primarily with a set of lifestyle brands and creators.

Advertisers in the test can search for creators with specific audience demographics using a wide range of targeting options. Those include both general and industry-specific parameters like:

  • Top countries where they’re popular
  • Interests
  • Gender
  • Education history
  • Relationship status
  • Life events
  • Home ownership status
  • Home type

The search engine’s results page shows a list of creators with each’s audience match percentage to the search terms, percentage of their followers they reach, engagement rate, follower count, and video views. Advertisers can save their best matches to private lists, and reach out to contact the creators, though Facebook is still figuring out if it’s best to connect them through their Facebook Page or traditional contact info. One question is how Facebook will ensure it’s only connecting businesses to brand-safe creators who won’t get them in trouble by posting racist, sexist, or objectionable content the way star YouTuber PewDiePie did.

The deals for product placement or sponsored content creation and sharing are then worked out between the brand and creator without Facebook’s involvement. The platform is not taking any revenue cut during the testing phase, but longer-term will evaluate whether it should. The only thing Facebook doesn’t allow is pure re-sharing deals where influencers are paid to just post the brand’s pre-made content they didn’t help create.

The crowsourced future of advertising

Foreshadowed the launch of its dedicated Facebook Creator app in November, this is the company’s first serious foray into influencer marketing. This emerging industry holds the potential to overhaul the way advertising content is produced. In days of old, brands couldn’t target very narrow segments of their customers since they were using broadcast mediums like TV commercials, magazine ads, and billboards, or endoresements from mainstream celebrity like movie actors. They might only make a few separate styles of marketing compaigns that would appeal to wide swaths of their target audience.

With the Internet and targeting data-rich social networks like Facebook, they can reach extremely specific subsets of their customers with marketing messages tuned to their identity. But reaching these niche audiences with corporate content that feels authentic rather than fake and smarmy is difficult. That’s where social media creators come in. Not only do they have a pre-existing and intimate relationship with their fans who’ll take their endorsements to heart. They’ve also already spent years figuring out exactly what type of content appeals to these specific people. When they team up with brands, the businesses get their products recontextualized and interpreted for that audience with content they could never come up with themselves.

Twitter realized this early, which is why it acquired creator-brand deal broker Niche for a reported $50 million back in 2015. [Disclosure: I got fascinated with this industry because my cousin Darren Lachtman is one of the co-founders of Niche] But now as Facebook seeks to attract influencers and their audiences to its social network, it’s trying to find ways to get them paid. Otherwise, they’re likely to stray to YouTube’s ad revenue shares and Patreon’s subscription payments. So far Facebook has tested tipping and subscriptions from fans, as well as letting creators host ad breaks — essentially commercials — during their videos. But brands want the creators’ help designing the content, not just distributing it.

But what about Instagram and YouTube influencers?

The Branded Content Matching search engine will help brands find those creators…but only on Facebook for now. The tool doesn’t pull in their audience sizes and metrics from other important platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, or Twitch. Brands don’t get a holistic view of the value and reach of a creator, who might be way more popular on another platform than Facebook.

And really, Instagram is where all these influencers spend their time and share their content. Though Facebook owns it, it says it’s not showing Instagram influencers in the tool at the moment. Adding them in, the same way advertisers can push ads to Facebook and Instagram from one interface, would make the search engine much more powerful.

There’s already a whole industry of independent creator search engines and databases for marketers like Hypr, Whalar, Fohr Card, Tap Influence, and Creator IQ. If Facebook built one with first-party data from across its properties, or even pulled stats from competing platforms, it might squash these startups. Alternatively, it might buy one to ramp up its efforts here like how Twitter bought Niche.

Facebook is running out of ad inventory in the News Feed. It needs to make each ad better and more watchable so it can grow revenue by charging more per ads rather than selling more ads. Meanwhile, yesterday it started testing ads in Facebook Stories, where brands will need help navigating the more personal, vertical video format. Awesome content made by creators could be the answer. And Facebook could finally start helping more of these artists, comedians, and storytellers to turn their passion into a profession.