Jeff Jarvis is a journalist and media theorist. For almost 20 years, he was an associate professor at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in New York where he was the Director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism. He is particularly interested in new business models, innovation in journalism, and the open web. We talked with him via mail, a few days after his testimony about AI and the future of journalism held by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law.

On February 4th, Facebook celebrates its 20th anniversary. Do you believe there is room for the social media platform in the next ten years?

(Wow. That makes me feel old.) I think it's important Meta started Threads not only as a competitor to Twitter (I refuse to call it "X") but also as a means to join the open-source and federated social world of Mastodon.

That tells me that Facebook and Instagram still see a place for social networks -- and still see themselves at the center of it -- but they acknowledge that operating as a walled garden won't be acceptable anymore. That is the lesson Musk has taught us by taking over and ruining Twitter's garden with his weeds.

What kind of platform do you envision?

There's no predicting what Facebook -- or the internet -- will be.

Considering the group's investments in generative artificial intelligence and the metaverse, what will be Facebook's next strategic move?

I must admit that I still do not understand the company's devotion to the metaverse.

But then, I don't play digital games either and so maybe it has simply passed me by. What interests me more is that Meta is a leader in open-source artificial intelligence. I think that might yield some surprises in what the company can do with the technology -- precisely because it is open source, leading to all kinds of unpredictable development.

I think other companies are misusing generative AI, attaching it to tasks where facts matter -- both search engines and news stories -- when everyone knows that generative AI has no sense of fact or truth.

How do you think generative AI can be used by tech giants?

What is more interesting to me is that generative AI could be seen as a fiction machine, a program for creativity.

It is also useful to help organize documents (as with Google's NotebookLM). It helps people (like me) who cannot code to command the machine. And I'm fascinated with the idea that generative AI could help people who are intimidated by writing to tell and illustrate their own stories. In a social environment -- unlike the factual environments of search and news -- I can imagine generative AI being used in very creative ways for people to express themselves. Perhaps it will be useful in the metaverse, too, but I probably won't be there.

Cambridge Analytica, misinformation, antitrust issues in Europe and the USA, and now some American states suing Meta for creating social networks that would create addiction in minors. Do you think generative AI will introduce new legal and ethical challenges for Meta?

Meta weathered its many storms better than I thought it could.

Look at the high value of its stock today, in spite of the media's constant criticism and attacks by politicians. AI will present new legal challenges to AI companies in general more than Meta in particular. As was evident when I testified in the U.S. Senate, AI will be yet another battleground where news companies fight with technology companies thinking that is how they can get rich. That won't work, but it will create a headache for all AI companies.

Do you believe there is still room for journalism and news in Meta's future?

I certainly believe there is room for news in Meta but Meta apparently does not. This is the fault of the news industry. News companies have attacked technology companies, thinking they are owed money when, in truth, news companies' customers -- readers and advertisers -- left for better deals.

That's competition. But news companies cashed in their political capital, earned with journalism, to get politicians to pass protectionist legislation against technology companies. The platforms -- both Google and Meta -- tried to make nice, making programs for journalism, paying for the training of journalists, and giving money to news companies. But the news companies still attacked.

And so we've come to cases in Australia and Canada…

So in Australia, Facebook experimented with dropping news from the service in the face of a bad, new law and learned that it did not suffer from that. In Canada, another bad law was passed that would have required the platforms to pay for the privilege of linking to news.

Meta instead dropped all news from Facebook and Instagram and did not suffer a bit. News publishers, however, lost a third of their traffic and thus demonstrated that Facebook's links were very valuable to them. Too bad. I predict they will not be coming back and if legislation like this is passed in the US and elsewhere, I would not be surprised to see Facebook get out of news entirely. Facebook would surely be much happier having just puppies and parties instead.