In this opinion piece, Director of Strategy + Innovation and co-founder of Webprofits Alex Cleanthous discusses who stands to lose the most in the ACCC’s News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code…
Which does the Australian media sector need more – exposure or money?
That is the question that Facebook raised in its reaction to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s draft News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code.
Will Easton, Managing Director, Facebook Australia & New Zealand responded in a blog post with a threat to stop the sharing of all news for Facebook users in Australia.
“Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram. This is not our first choice – it is our last. But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector.”
But the next paragraph that raises the most interesting question — how do you balance the costs and lost revenue of news creators’ content being shared free on Facebook against the exposure that Facebook brings to these news outlets?
He went on to say:
“Most perplexing, it would force Facebook to pay news organisations for content that the publishers voluntarily place on our platforms and at a price that ignores the financial value we bring publishers.”
It’s clear both have value, but how does one balance the cost of making the news against the exposure that media outlets gain on Facebook. Easton is ready to address one side of the equation, stating:
“Over the first five months of 2020 we sent 2.3 billion clicks from Facebook’s News Feed back to Australian news websites at no charge – additional traffic worth an estimated $200 million AUD to Australian publishers.”
These responses are based on a bill that suggests that terms be made. It doesn’t attempt to explain what that equation would look like. But it does seem like at least one side has already started negotiations in the media — Facebook starts at $200 million AUD.
In the meantime, Glenn Withers, Professor of Economics, Australian National University has calculated in his article in The Conversation that “Australians are willing to pay up to $560 million per year in additional tax to support more public interest journalism.” Withers suggests “…Using this data, we can suggest boundaries for pricing the news in negotiations with Facebook and Google.”
It seems like as a starting place for negotiations, it’s not insurmountable, especially distributed between Facebook and Google (which has also had a negative reaction to the Consumer Commission’s draft.)
But I would like to suggest a simple, more elegant solution:
Let Facebook remove regional and international news exactly like they have suggested they would.
Who loses most without Facebook News — Australia or Facebook?
The truth is, modern news started in 1450 with the wider production of the printing press. (There were some monks making notes about current events before then, but it’s not quite the same without amplification or distribution.)
It is beyond doubt that Australians will find other ways to get the news. There will be downloading of browser extensions, subscribing to news feeds and maybe some users will actually go find the websites of independent news sources. But we will find news without having it passively fed to us through Facebook.
Facebook downplays the importance of news on their platform in their blog post, stating:
“News represents a fraction of what people see in their News Feed and is not a significant source of revenue for us. Still, we recognize that news provides a vitally important role in society and democracy, which is why we offer free tools and training to help media companies reach an audience many times larger than they have previously.”
Clearly, Facebook News is a popular feature — 52% of Australian Facebook users read the news on the platform — and removing news will remove another major reason for people to keep going back.
A news-driven society needs news-savvy consumers.
Do you, as a consumer of news, benefit from getting all your information from one platform?
As the news cycle has become a 24×7 worldwide phenomenon and our choices in news sources have grown exponentially, the responsibility falls on all of us to be discerning consumers of news — it doesn’t benefit us to allow our news to be passively fed to us by an algorithm that tracks our preferences and behaviors and feeds us news it thinks we will “like”. The feedback loop of the Facebook News algorithm inevitably creates an information bubble, showing us more of what we already believe — rather than news that we might need to hear.
Since Facebook has already stated they are doing Facebook News in Australia as more of a benefit for us and not a great source of revenue to them, let Australia be the first to test life without Facebook News.
Maybe some users will turn to independent news organizations and give them some ad revenue.
Or maybe someone will fill the void Facebook leaves in our hearts by taking its news sharing function away — with something better.
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