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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Facebook puts Australian media under scrutiny

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Facebook said on Thursday that it is restricting the sharing of news on its social network in Australia in an attempt to boost trust between media outlets and users.

The changes, the first of their kind on Facebook in many months, will affect Australians starting in April and may have ripple effects around the world as other social media companies consider how to respond.

Facebook has long allowed Australians to post links from articles in their local newspaper or another outlet they find in the news feed. Users can now link to a host site that publishes in their local area or to articles published by a broad network of publications, Facebook said in a blog post. Users’ posts can also link to a webpage featuring relevant information about the news item, such as related links to other sources of information, the company said.

But Facebook is now prohibiting Australian news organizations from also publishing articles through its Instant Articles program, which integrates headlines and photographs from web sources directly into Facebook’s own mobile news feed. Instant Articles is widely popular among publishers — about 1,500 publications have signed on — but not all of them are Australian, and the companies that sign on to operate Instant Articles can decide to publish content in multiple languages.

Australian media organizations, including The Australian Financial Review, Fairfax Media, News Corp, West Australian and SBS, are concerned that the changes could affect their ability to distribute their content widely and are seeking a meeting with Facebook about the impact of the changes. Facebook said in its blog post that it plans to provide some of these organizations with the option to earn revenue from articles published through Instant Articles.

Facebook is the world’s largest platform for sharing content, and Australia, along with many other countries, is a major market for news consumption. (The U.S. tops the list, with about 1.2 billion Facebook users.) Many Australian outlets operate newspapers, websites and syndication services that allow them to share their stories across social media, and some groups have criticized Facebook for not helping to foster greater trust in the media, an important issue in the U.S. and Europe.

Facebook said in its blog post that it is working with the Australian government to “strengthen media literacy” by educating users on how to report fake news and misinformation on the social network.

This week, Google announced it will begin to pay some publishers based on their audience. Several European outlets, including The New York Times, have condemned the change as an ineffective way to battle misinformation online.

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