The news pull-out in Facebook Australia is sending ripples of concern, confusion, and curiosity around the impact of a tech giant taking active steps in regulating content on its feed. Sure, the absence of news is weird, to say the least, but there are bigger things at play here and it is changing the landscape of news distribution. It even starts to reveal the stark difference of stature of media before Internet and now. Here are the things that we feel will eventually shape the outcome of the situation and how it will play out on the world stage, not just in Australia.
Who controls attention will win
News has always been distributed through television, newspaper and radio. The age of the Internet changed this so that TV stations are slowly stripped of their power while advertising dollars are moving to digital platforms like YouTube. Newspapers are dying all over the world as well and those that are surviving are putting out the news through their websites while pushing for digital subscriptions. Radio is also going digital with most stations airing over the Internet while podcasting has eroded its pull for billions of people looking for something to listen to thanks to Spotify and Apple Podcast.
So what do these scenarios tell us? We are witnessing a power shift so that tech-driven social platforms like Facebook, where human attention can be found today, have a bigger influence than even the biggest media companies in the world. Why is this? Because the power is on distribution, it is on the virtual places where people engage, connect, network and yes, share content with each other.
Social platforms contextualises news so that it is easily consumed by people and their friends and friends of friends. Even the most successful newspapers can’t even get close to attracting the same number of readers through online platforms they control. They can’t get as much traffic to their content without the help of platforms like Facebook.
William Easton, the managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, said in a blog post that the “relationship between Facebook and news publishers who use it to share their content is fundamentally misunderstood”. Marketers, on the other hand, understand this very well. Even the best content will never fly if not enough people see it. For you to do that, you need platforms like Facebook, you need a place where attention is traded.
We believe that while the absence of news will affect some businesses and it will affect the way people consume it on the social platform, eventually Facebook will have the upper hand as people and organisations start coping with the change.
Credible news in different size and form
One of the biggest fears of many people is that when big media “aka” real news is no more, this might cause misinformation to go up. While this might have merit, there is another way of looking at it. Big media can be steered by advertising money and this has caused a lot of distrust all over the world. And so with how big media is seen today, it will possibly be replaced by other sources of news content.
These “sources” might not have the size of giant media groups, but they can still churn out credible news. Credibility today is much more scrutinized as people can freely cross-reference claims and “research”. And with the advent of social media, people are more aware of what is happening in their community. News can be vetted fast and on so many levels, misinformation is easier to track and flag.
The pullout of news from Facebook will open an era of smaller media groups, even individuals – bloggers, vloggers or videographers that will choose to get into creating news content. This also underlines the new reality that credible news will be built around community validation and deep research work, replacing the traditional idea that only big, long-running media groups are the exclusive publisher of trustworthy news.
We will see how all of these things will pan out in the coming days. But one thing is for sure, the media world is changing and Australia is just the first of the many countries that will see changes in Facebook news feeds.