Publishers react to Meta’s ‘substitutable’ news claim

Publishers react to Meta’s ‘substitutable’ news claim

Meta has said it sees news as “substitutable” on its platforms in a federal parliament inquiry in Australia.

The social media giant is involved in ongoing disputes with the Australian and Canadian governments about paying publishers for news on Facebook and Instagram.

In March, Meta said it would not enter into any new payment agreements with media companies in Australia after the introduction of its News Media Bargaining Code in 2021. It banned news on its Canadian platforms following the introduction of that country’s Online News Act in 2023.

During the inquiry in Australia, Meta said it had “never thought about news as a way to minimise misinformation/disinformation on our services”.

It added that it was “unaware of any evidence” that there was more misinformation on its platform in Canada after its news ban.

Meta cited its third-party fact-checking partnerships as a way to stop the spread of misinformation and pointed out that there was no significant fall in engagement from Canadian users when it dropped news in that market.

Analysis by Guardian Australia previously found that news was mostly replaced with memes on Facebook, while one Canadian expert said it was replaced with misleading viral content in that country.

Analysis: Responsibility to publishers and consumers

While the UK does not have legislation that compels tech giants to pay publishers in the same way as Canada and Australia, publishers are still reliant on these platforms for traffic.

In 2023, Meta deprioritised news on Facebook in France, Germany and the UK. At the time, publishers have accused Meta of “choking trusted news”. A Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism report found that traffic to news sties from Facebook plummeted by almost 50% globally that year.

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Richard Reeves, managing director at the Association of Online Publishers, called the decision by Meta not to support news “grotesquely irresponsible”.

He told The Media Leader: “I would argue that where a media outlet or social platform commands so much attention from such a broad and diverse audience — with such broad and diverse opinions and views — it has a societal responsibility to ensure that it provides access to balanced and reliable news sources. Particularly content created by journalists with integrity, accountability and which is independently verified at the source.

“I would simply call it an essential commitment to the provision of access to quality news, views and information.”

Sajeeda Merali, CEO of the Professional Publishers Association (PPA), argues that news from reputable sources “will stop fake news from filling that void” left by Meta removing news.

She added: “Specialist publishers, and the trusted journalism of magazine media and news, are the antidote to misinformation and disinformation on Facebook and Instagram.”

Vulnerable to error

For Merali and Reeves, news is not “substitutable” on Facebook and Instagram.

“While the PPA acknowledges that platforms provide a space for dialogue, which can be enriching when the appropriate safeguards are in place, this cannot be equated to the expertise and authority of specialist media delivering trusted and properly researched content,” Merali stressed.

“A ‘news-rich’ social media post on any social channel, posted by an individual, is not impartial nor vetted and therefore is highly vulnerable to error or falsehoods.”

Reeves described Meta’s decision as “clearly financially driven” and “with no consideration for its societal responsibilities”.

“No matter what ‘assurances’ the platform might make about having monitoring processes in place, its refusal to support reliable news routes within its environment seriously undermines any claim to providing a safe and balanced media offering,” he said.

“For a platform that commands so much attention, it must be more than a message board for polarised, unsafe and unbalanced views with no accountability or verification. News is not, and should never be, ‘substitutable’ on these platforms.”

Merali added that the PPA “wholeheartedly” supports payment for its members so that they “can be remunerated for the investment” that goes into what they bring to social platforms by enhancing users’ experience.

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