Robert Thomson: Facebook’s Claim Only 3% Of Usage Relates To News “Preposterous”

Robert Thomson: Facebook’s Claim Only 3% Of Usage Relates To News “Preposterous”

Robert Thomson, News Corp’s chief executive has cast some serious doubts over Facebook’s assertion that just three per cent of usage on its platform relates to news and, therefore, gave the social media giant cause to ditch its news media bargaining code deals in Australia.

Last week, Facebook’s parent company Meta said that it would not enter into negotiations to extend a deal to pay with Australian media companies for the news that appears on its platform. The well-hidden Facebook News tab will be officially axed in Australia and the US this April, continuing Facebook’s global push away from news.

“It’s disappointing when you look at Facebook suggesting for example, that three per cent of usage relates to news. Well, that’s obviously a fiction, a preposterous figure. I mean how much discussion is there around news?” said Thomson, speaking at a Morgan Stanley conference overnight.

“You have the core news and then I can tell you 100 per cent of the contemporary factual information on Facebook is news. And so those are the numbers that really, Facebook should be focused on as well as being focused on its responsibility to all Australians.”

In a blog post, Meta said the move was part of “an ongoing effort to better align our investments to our products and services people value the most” and followed the axing of the Facebook News tabs in the UK, France and Germany last year.

The blog post added: “While we’ll be deprecating Facebook News in these countries, this announcement does not impact the terms under our existing Facebook News agreements with publishers in Australia, France and Germany. These deals have already expired in the US and the UK.

“Additionally, to ensure that we continue to invest in products and services that drive user engagement, we will not enter into new commercial deals for traditional news content in these countries and will not offer new Facebook products specifically for news publishers in the future.”

However, while Meta said that its decision was designed to give the people what they wanted, Thomson seemed to suggest that the social network company was walking away from a car crash it had caused.

“The swirl or maelstrom of muck out there is disfiguring communities, it’s having a profoundly negative impact on a lot of young people. And unless you have…you know, what is the most contemporary form of factual information? Well, it’s journalism, it captures the first frame of history,” he said.

“And to be honest, that’s why the Facebook decision in Australia is so disappointing. It’s a company that talks about community. When you look at — not to start, and we have a certain amount of self-interest, but it’s more about the Australian community — when you look at the damage that’s been done to communities.”

But Thomson recognised that News Corp had some level of self-interest in the discussions and that advances in Generative AI had suddenly given the company a new lease on life as far as the tech industry was concerned.

“We have been in an era where creators have been less rewarded than behemoth distributors… And the danger to media is that Gen AI is another form of distribution and it’s on amphetamines. And so that, if you’re not very conscious of the risk, then the risk may outweigh the opportunity,” he explained.

“But we’re also well advanced in our discussions with Gen AI companies here, without being too specific. And I have to say that leaders like Sam Altman clearly understand the value of content integrity. They clearly see the social purpose of journalism. And when you start with a partner that has that orientation, the discussions are inevitably productive. So, he deserves a lot of credit, really, for his philosophical approach to what is, in the end, a commercial discussion. But I can’t really say any more than that at this moment, but there are four or five discussions going on. We’ll see how they evolve over time.”

News Corp’s Australasian executive chairman, Michael Miller, also issued a scathing attack on Meta last week, saying that it was misleading Australians.

“Meta is attempting to mislead Australians by saying its decision is about the closure of its news tab product, however, the vast majority of news on Facebook and Meta is and will continue to be consumed outside this product.

“Meta’s decision will directly impact the viability of Australia’s many small and regional publishers and this is a pressing issue for the government to confront,” he added.

James Warburton, Seven West Media’s outgoing managing director and CEO said plainly, “Meta needs to be designated.”

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