While still reeling from the discovery that the new cool generation (the so-called Zoomers) are deriding my age bracket for our love of side parts, skinny jeans and the cry-laugh emoji, the snap change to our Facebook feeds this morning has demonstrated how quickly the digital world can change on you.
In case you haven’t seen the news – if you rely on Facebook for your news then you literally wouldn’t have – the leading social networking site has removed news content from its platform after negotiations with the Australian government came to a head when the Media Bargaining Law passed in the House of Representatives.
From major national outlets like the ABC to cultural sources like Pedestrian TV, all news has been removed from our Facebook feeds, with their pages wiped of all posts, displaying only the sad, bare bones of ‘about’ content. Even popular satirical news site Betoota Advocate hasn’t been saved from the slaughter.
So, what does this mean for publishers?
In the goliath vs goliath battle between the world’s most popular social media platform and the duopoly of the Australian publishing world (through the actions of the government), it really does come down to who gets to keep the money made from our eyes. With advertising spend dwindling, publishers have been losing money for years and have turned to subscription models to stay afloat. But the ability to share their news (or at least their headlines) to unpaying audiences is integral to building out their future revenue.
We can’t forget about the thousands of independent ‘Davids’ who also had their promotional tap turned off. While they might swing wildly from seemingly unbiased to propaganda mouthpieces, small fry publishers have relied on the platform to build their audience and now face a hard slog to keep their readership.
Perhaps most worryingly, when our access to news and information is restricted, it’s the Australian people who lose out. Whether we find ourselves pushed deeper into our confirmation bias rabbit holes, or lose our alert systems for major events, the divide between us will only be heightened by the lack of information, education and public discord. Especially in a pandemic, where social media has become our physical community.
Is there any good news?
Well, news isn’t dead just yet, if you’re looking for a silver lining. A quick survey of the Keep Left office show that many of us had already shifted away from Facebook to other news sources, with many going direct to multiple publishers to get an unbiased view of the world.
For our Digital and Content Marketing clients, we may even see benefits. Consumer brands will still be able to share their content directly with their customers on Facebook and become authorities on relevant topics as they won’t be competing with large-scale media companies for airtime – this could result in greater reach and cheaper costs. Robust content marketing strategies should support multiple channels and outputs so that we can hang on when the floor drops out beneath us.
Meanwhile, over at Google…
Of course, this law wasn’t just directed at Facebook. The number one search engine in the world (Google is literally synonymous with ‘searching the web’) has taken a different approach to the law and are already negotiating deals with some of the major publishers, starting with a nice $30 million a year to Nine.
As we’ve seen when a similar law passed in France, these deals often favour the big players with the big bucks and exclude smaller independent publishers from the conversation.
It will be interesting to see how Facebook’s knee-jerk reaction develops and whether we see a decline in daily active users on Facebook in the coming months as a result of people seeking other sources for their news.
I for one, will miss the seeing opposing viewpoints come together for a mix of polite debate and wild insults in the comment sections… and will make sure I’m following my preferred news outlets on Instagram (which is not affected by the ban).