Meta on why news is not the reason most go to Facebook

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 18 March 2024
Credit: Tengyart via Unsplash

Meta has hit back at criticism over its decision to stop paying Australian publishers for their premium content.

In a blog post on Medium, Meta said that interest in news is declining on its platforms and that audiences are engaging with different types of content.

"Since 2021, there have been significant changes in the types and categories of content that people are consuming across our family of apps," said Meta.

"Primarily, we know our audiences come to Facebook to share the ups and downs of life, connect to local community groups, promote their business and or discover entertaining content. Links to news stories are a very small proportion of that — less than 3% of the content people see in their Facebook Feed."

CEO of News Corp, Robert Thomson, disputed that figure, calling it "preposterous” and "obviously a fiction". 

“I mean how much discussion is there around news? You have the core news and then I can tell you 100% of the contemporary factual information on Facebook is news," he said speaking at a US conference recently.

Meta has said that it has observed that when there is less or no news on its platforms, people continue to use the company's services, but much of the recent public debate suggests that Facebook "needs or unfairly benefits from news content, including financially".

"This isn’t the case. Meta is a commercial business and it is in our interest to continue to create products and services that help us grow and be successful," said Meta in the blog post.

"The reality is that accessing news is simply not the reason most people use our services."

The Digital Publishers Alliance (DPA), a not-for-profit industry body for digital-first publishers, recently took out a full-page ad in the Australian Financial Review criticising the move.

"A sustainable, robust and diverse media industry is the basis for a well-functioning democracy and plays a vital role in sharing information and ensuring accountability," the ad said.

Meta said that by taking advantage of the free distribution of news on Facebook and Instagram, publishers can grow their audiences, sell more subscriptions and boost ad revenue - and that those publishers keep 100% of the revenue from traffic and subscriptions derived from outbound links on Facebook.

"For example, in 2023 we estimate that Facebook Feed sent Australian publishers more than 2.3 billion free clicks — for no charge — driving an estimated (AUD) $115 million worth of value," Meta said.

"Ultimately, there is a misunderstanding of how news content works on Facebook. Some have accused Meta of 'taking' or 'stealing' news content but that’s not the case. We don’t scrape or pull content from publisher websites, unlike other companies. We provide a free service which publishers voluntarily choose to use and can benefit from."

Tim Duggan, chair of the Digital Publishers Alliance, told AdNews that social traffic to publishers has been declining, both in quantity and quality of the audiences, for many years.

“Both Facebook and Twitter are mature social mediums in Australia, and there doesn't seem to be much growth left in either of them in new audiences, so they are trying to drive more growth internally instead of externally,” he said.

"These trends have been long flagged and widely expected, and most publishers have been building up alternative traffic sources for years to make up for the shortfall in traffic."

Meta said that forcing technology companies into commercial relationships will not solve the long-term challenges facing public interest journalism or encourage the news industry to develop sustainable business models.

"We’ve been consistent in sharing that we don’t believe the News Media Bargaining Code framework fixes the long standing issues facing the news industry. We outlined these concerns in the 2022 review of the code," Meta said.

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