12 March 2024

Facebook has decided they don't give a damn about your news

| Genevieve Jacobs
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blocks spelling out fake

Misinformation is more likely to flourish as Meta withdraws from news. Photo: Andrii Yalanskyi.

If you check Facebook frequently, you will have noticed the changes.

There’s less news and more photos of people’s cats and children, depending on the entirely opaque algorithm’s decisions about you. There could well be darker content, too, and that’s no accident.

Facebook isn’t actually a friendly way of sharing information between friends and communities. Facebook makes money by keeping you on the page while feeding you clickable stories with scant historical regard for how unbalanced or dangerous that content is.

But many media companies have made a pact with the devil. Those who succumb to the clickbait temptation can see dizzying rises (and falls) in visitor numbers despite having no real control over when or whether a story appears in people’s feeds.

Three years ago, the Australian Government tried to bring Facebook and other social media giants to heel by creating a news media bargaining code.

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But after years of getting news outlets to publish their content on Facebook’s platforms, Meta (Facebook’s parent company) didn’t react well to the suggestion that they should negotiate with news producers to pay for content appearing on search engines or social media.

They participated grudgingly, and there were gestures made towards publishers that were designed to show cooperation. Here at Region, we received a small grant from Meta that enabled us to purchase some camera equipment.

But over the last few years, there have been increasingly strong signals that Meta no longer cares about news. Australian Facebook news executives have been moved on, and queries from media organisations go unanswered.

Now Meta has announced it’s pulling out of any future news funding agreements under the News Media Code, due for a re-set as the first round of deals expire.

The government says it can and will force Meta to negotiate payment with media companies for content, but almost certainly, Meta will react by banning news on its platforms here. This happened recently in Canada when the government attempted to follow Australia’s lead.

At Region, we’ve worked hard to reduce our dependence on Facebook. We set up email newsletters like the Daily Digest that go directly to you and built a Region app. We want our readers to come straight to our platform.

Region makes its money from local companies, not multinationals on social media. Our clients run businesses in your local community and want to deal with local customers via a locally owned and operated media organisation.

Based on our experience when Facebook cut off news from your feeds in February 2021, we’re fairly confident we’ll be OK, unlike some other smaller publishers who depend entirely on social media to create traffic (or only exist on Facebook).

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But there are bigger reasons to be worried. Without doubt, fewer Australians will read the news and fewer Australians will see fair, balanced and well-grounded news content when Meta chokes off the content.

A sustainable, robust and diverse media industry is a cornerstone of our democracy. When we share information ethically and effectively, we give everyone the means to make informed decisions.

The annual Digital News Review run by the University of Canberra shows that local content is the top news priority for 79 per cent of Australians.

That matters in a world where social media is increasingly populated by flat-out misinformation from a million miles away. And those sources of misinformation are mainly not classified as news by Meta, so they’ll continue to flourish.

There will be fewer trusted sources online and fewer people creating content for which they’re accountable and responsible. In Australia, where the media industry is already concentrated in a handful of major companies, there will be even less incentive and potential for financially viable new media companies – like Region – to emerge.

Australia deserves more diversity in our media, not less. Meta could play fair, acknowledge news matters to people and accept its social responsibility. At this stage, they’ve decided not to do so.

Original Article published by Genevieve Jacobs on Riotact.

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