The Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill currently working its way through the UK Parliament could see Meta (as well as Alphabet) labeled as holding Strategic Market Status (SMS) and therefore asked to financially contribute to content creators to ensure fair competition in the digital market. The amount paid would be decided under arbitration, with the Competition and Markets Authority issuing fines for companies who refuse to pay. Similar systems are under consideration in Malaysia, New Zealand, and the US; the EU already has a law in place that has led Google to sign revenue-sharing deals with more than 300 publishers.
Alphabet and Meta are pushing back, claiming that news isn’t even very valuable to them. On Google, news-related queries make up just 2 percent of Google Search, according to the company’s own statistics, while Meta said news stories make up just 3 percent of what people see in their feeds. Instead, according to Meta’s “widely viewed content report,” only 6.2 percent of content seen in feeds links to a source outside Facebook. However, other research contradicts those numbers. A Pew Research Center survey in 2021 showed half of US adults get news on social media at least some of the time.
In Canada, Jean-Hugues Roy, a researcher at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), used Meta’s CrowdTangle tool to find out what people were seeing on Facebook after the news ban. What he found was largely clickbait, family posts, and recipes. “One quickly gets bored,” he says.
Although he didn’t find evidence that disinformation was filling the vacuum left by news—as some had predicted—he wasn’t entirely reassured. “Since Meta has started to remove news content, I realize that clickbait can be more toxic than I previously thought,” he says. He found examples where news stories that had been banned from the platform had been repackaged by clickbait sites. “Some news percolates, but through pseudo media organizations that feed on news articles and spike them with made-up details and sensational titles,” he says.
For news organizations, Meta’s erratic news strategy shows the fragility of their decades-long pact. Traditional media has relied on digital platforms for distribution, handing over huge amounts of power to tech companies.
News might make up small percentages of eyeballs for Google and Facebook, but those scraps of referral traffic and spare millions in donations and revenue-sharing certainly helped the struggling media industry. But after years of flip-flopping, killing projects, and now banning links and pulling funding, Meta has made clear that Facebook isn’t a dependable distributor for news.
“Somewhere on the way, many news organizations lost touch with their audiences,” Ganter says. “It will require some deep work to disintermediate the relationships with their audiences—or to create new platforms where audiences and news organizations can meet on terms that are less disadvantageous for journalism.”