Opinion

The Meta News Battle – is it time we all took a chill pill?

Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, stands accused of “undermining democracy” after smothering political content from mainstream news services in some overseas markets. According to a fresh report in The Australian newspaper, this has resulted in a worrying spike in the spread of disinformation on the social media platform in Canada as concerns grow that recent closure of the site’s dedicated news section in Australia will have similar consequences here. So how bad is it and should we be alarmed? Assembled Media Head of Social, Alex James, explores.

If you read the headlines, Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, stands accused of “undermining democracy” after smothering political content from mainstream news services in some overseas markets.

According to a fresh report in The Australian newspaper, this has resulted in a worrying spike in the spread of disinformation on the social media platform in Canada as concerns grow that recent closure of the site’s dedicated news section in Australia will have similar consequences here.

So how bad is it and should we be alarmed?

According to Assembled Media Head of Social, Alex James, it may be time for everyone to take a chill pill and consider more deeply all the angles.

They said, “My opinion is the current News Media Bargaining Code is a ham-fisted way for news publishers to prop up aging commercial models and the question really comes down to whether or not it is the digital platform’s responsibility to fix that or if the news companies need to adapt.”

“On the other hand, credible and quality journalism is fundamental to our democracy, and this is partly funded by advertising revenue. So, coming up with a new unproven model that puts these institutions at risk may also prove problematic for Australia.”

According to James, “It’s likely going to come down to whether the government and publishers will attempt to force Meta to re-join the News Media Bargaining Code. And if they do, the future of news content on Meta may not be just deprioritised in the algorithm, news content may be removed completely. But their future on the platform is in their own hands.”

The News Media Bargaining Code is a law designed to govern commercial relationships between large tech companies like Google and Facebook, and some Australian news businesses.

Coming into effect in March 2021, it is a combined effort by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the federal government and major Australian news publishers to allow businesses to negotiate for payment from Facebook and Google for the inclusion of news content within their platforms.

On February 17th, 2021, Meta briefly removed news content from Facebook, stating that the draft code allowed publishers to charge Facebook for content with no clear limits on amounts or what constitutes ‘news’.

This decision was reversed 4 days later as it reached an agreement with the Australian government on publisher payment guidelines and has been paying publishers ever since.

Meta has recently announced it will not renew its agreements with publishers under the code, which were due to expire April 1st, 2024. As part of this, the News tab within the Facebook app has been shut down, and the future of news content on Facebook is now unsure.

However, Meta has totally blocked news content in Canada after their government passed laws, which were based on Australia’s code, that Meta labelled “fundamentally flawed”.

Meta’s main area of contention with the News Media Bargaining Code is it misrepresents the value of news content to Meta platforms.

Unlike Google, that automatically scapes websites for data to produce search results and hosts specific news products like Google News; news publishers share links to news articles via Facebook, for the purpose of driving traffic to their sites.

Facebook generates no revenue from this, it generates money from advertising activity within its platform, and is therefore incentivised to keep people on its platforms for as long as possible.

Head of Social at Assembled Media, Alex James (they/she)

Meta states that news content makes up less than 3% of the content people view on their newsfeed, and that people are coming to their platforms to consume content from friends, family, and creators over news publishers.

It would therefore not be commercially detrimental for Meta to ban news content, as they will likely lose very few users and have less content on their platform directing to external sites.

News publishers are speculating on a lot of potential outcomes of Meta pulling out of the News Media Bargaining Code.

Some outlets have been reporting that Meta is going to make an algorithm change that will deprioritise news content in the newsfeed, but these claims have not been substantiated by Meta. These rumours may have stemmed from the algorithmic change Meta made in February this year to political content, which automatically changed settings to deprioritise political content in the feed – although this can be reversed by users and does not affect general news content.

According to James, “The future of news will ultimately rely on whether the Australian Government choose to force Meta to comply with the News Media Bargaining Code. It seems likely that if they force compliance with the law in its current form, news content will be removed from Meta platforms in Australia more permanently. And if they don’t, news will remain, probably relatively untouched.

​​References 

 The Australian. Media Section “Fake news spreads in Canada, we’re next”. (2024, 8 April) 

 ANZ, M. (2024, March). Debunking Claims About News Content On Metas Platforms. Retrieved from Medium: https://medium.com/meta-australia-policy-blog/debunking-claims-about-news-content-on-metas-platforms-b7117945ac87  

Meta. (2024, February). Update On Facebook News, US, Australia. Retrieved from Meta Newsroom: https://about.fb.com/news/2024/02/update-on-facebook-news-us-australia/ 

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