13 March 2024

Letter from the Editor: 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.

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Something wrong if you rely on Facebook for news. Had it for a couple of years then ditched it. Absolute rubbish

Tom Worthington8:45 am 13 Mar 24

Social media is a convenient way share information with friends & family, but it is funded by advertising. Social media services have found that they do not need hard news to attract readers to the ads, gossip works better. If Australia wants factual news services, it will need to find someone other that social media to pay for it, as they don’t need it.

Incidental Tourist4:51 pm 10 Mar 24

I’ll argue that as soon as “truth” goes for sale it becomes “misinformation”. For example every advertisement is a form of misinformation as it is highly biased. If an advertisement suddenly tells full truth about the product it won’t sell it. Hence I’ll argue that the word of truth must be free. Therefore Region faces an unpleasant dilemma. If you focus on unbiased truth then you won’t earn much. In fact telling unbiased truth is a form of charity, it’s a service to community so to speak. If you want to earn more then you have to start bending the truth to maximise profit. And it is indeed a deal with a devil if one promises you to sell unbiased truth for profit.

Oh the irony of opinion writers who label themselves ‘journalists’…who believe their opinion is both factual and valued over all the other ‘news’ on social media…ergo, their over-inflated sense of self-worth demands remuneration from the same social media sites these opinionated journalists often negatively opine about.

The opinions of these opinion writers frequently falls into the same categories as fake news as peddled by social media sites (one-sided or deliberately misleading opinion is a form of fake news(intentional or not))…so Meta no longer paying these opinionated media organisations and their poorly trained staff is entirely reasonable, especially when the misguided content from Region’s so-called journo’s is oft freely available on its very own and free to the public website…hilarious. If you think your opinion is financially valued – put it behind a paywall.

If anything Region and everyone other media organisation should be paying Meta to peddle their news…especially because people like me don’t want ‘news’ in their social lives anyway.

AI has ruined Facebook. It’s unusable with all the fake images that are impossible to block (bots now have a way of overriding blocking requests). I stopped using it when I could not block being tagged into pornographic images. Every report I made was met with a “doesn’t breach our community standards” response. When you request a review of a rejected report, there is no longer the option of explaining why their AI reviewers are getting it wrong. They did send me an option of taking a matter to their so-called review board – only the link didn’t work and when I tried going to the review board through other channels, I hit brick walls.

Gregg Heldon7:27 am 10 Mar 24

Same for me but with animal abuse videos. Exactly the same process.

I use facebook, but never for news. I have never even considered using facebook for news.

Sorry, don’t use FB for the news so no loss here. I do read the news online everyday so to have it on FB is a distraction from the reason I use FB. You could argue about breaking news being useful I suppose.

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