Meta report: News media needs Facebook more than Facebook needs news

By Peter Bale


New Zealand and the U.K.


Welcome to the latest INMA Newsroom Initiative newsletter.

In this issue, we look at Facebook parent Meta telling publishers it no longer values news as it once did — and nor do its readers. Meta says it’s not about to try to pay for it because it’s the publishers who get the benefit from being on the platform.

We may feel that’s been a multi-year refrain from Facebook and other platforms, but they have a chunky independent research report to back it up. 

There’s a bit more insight on Facebook and news from a new study by Australian academics, which puts some rigour behind the reasonable assumption that so-called “drive by” or “fly by” news consumers are generally less interested in news and more prone to mistrust it.

Trust, one of the most fundamental issues we try to tackle in the INMA Newsroom Initiative, is falling in news media in New Zealand, driven in part apparently by suspicion that emergency support from the government during the pandemic was perceived to compromise independence.

Facebook fires back at publishers, saying it doesn’t need or want news

Facebook-owner Meta gets its retaliation in first against news publishers pushing governments and regulators to compel the company to pay for content seen on its platforms in a new research report that turns the tables on the argument from publishers.

The report from NERA Economic Consulting comes up with broad claims, Meta says:

  • News from publishers is only 3% of what users see on Facebook, and that share has declined over time.

  • Publishers post to Facebook to get the social media traffic they crave and gain from.

The essence is that publishers get a better deal from Facebook than Meta gets from publishers and that Facebook users don’t really care about news anyway.

Meta quotes the report as finding there is “no economic foundation for news publishers’ contentions that Facebook is a ‘must have’ platform for publishers or that it possesses an ‘imbalance of bargaining power.’”

It is a familiar argument from both Facebook and Google that publishers derive at least as much economic benefit from being on their platforms and gaining traffic to the sites as any gain the platforms might have from surfacing news in their services. The difference is the level of independent research in the latest report and its timing.

Governments in Canada, New Zealand, and elsewhere are preparing legislation that tries to achieve what Australia mandated two years ago: that the big technology firms must compensate publishers for journalism that is rendered on the platforms in social media or search. California, too, is considering new legislation, requiring Google parent Alphabet and Meta to pay for news.

Meta comes out fighting, saying that not only is news a tiny percentage of content in feeds but also that its customers largely don’t value it as much as more personal posts. It also points out — as Meta Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has before — that most news is posted to Facebook by publishers themselves rather than other Facebook users.

“Proposed government interventions designed to force Meta to provide monetary compensation to publishers based on allegations of market power or disproportionate bargaining power are not thus justified by the available evidence,” Meta quoted the report as concluding.

Meta has long argued that must mean publishers perceive value from being on Facebook because they put their journalism there whether Facebook wants it or not. If so, that argument goes, why should Meta compensate publishers for content they post themselves or for content other Facebook users may choose to share with their friends?

It is clear Meta and Zuckerberg find the whole debate around paying for news on Facebook aggravating and that publishers have, on the one hand, asked Facebook for support with journalism projects and payments for news while also pushing regulators and politicians to act against the Silicon Valley behemoth.

Meta has all but shut down its teams supporting news publishers and closed its “news tab” service, which gave it a surface it could pay publishers for.

The latest report essentially says no one on Facebook really wants news, and if they do, they put it there themselves. And that Meta really has no way of knowing what news is there and why should it care or pay for it if it derives little or no benefit from news others post.

It is a short step from there to one of the potential scenarios that Facebook experimented with in Australia and withdrew from — identifying news and preventing it being posted to the site.

The latest statement in response to the NERA report again threatens to cut news out of Facebook and Instagram if the Canadian law goes ahead.

That may be easier said than done since Facebook struggles to identify posts that are or are not news, especially when posted by ordinary people as opposed to from publisher accounts. They may be able to stop The Globe and Mail from publishing through its own account, but it is much more difficult to detect a Globe and Mail story posted to Facebook by an ordinary person.

But Meta makes clear that at a time when it is facing competition — presumably a reference to TikTok — it really has no time for the claims of publishers struggling with the long-term secular decline of the media business and expecting Facebook to somehow compensate for that.

“Our focus is on our core business and responding to what our users want. For most of our users, that’s not news links,” Meta said in its statement (ouch!), adding: “Facebook users are increasingly interested in creator-driven content, especially video.”

The detailed NERA report, led by noted media and Internet researcher Dr. Jeffrey A. Eisenach, makes clear where it thinks the benefit lies and it sure isn’t with Meta. Rather it is the publishers who need Facebook and Instagram more than Meta needs publishers.

“The evidence presented here indicates publishers reap considerable economic benefits from their use of Facebook, including by exposing their content links to Facebook users and driving traffic to their Web sites,” the report says. “This results in more subscribers and higher advertising revenues for publishers.

While Meta also benefits to a relatively small extent — in that some Facebook users enjoy the ability to share and engage with publisher content — the evidence suggests news content is highly substitutable with other content on the Facebook platform, meaning the loss of news content would not significantly reduce user engagement on Facebook.”

My take: NERA and Meta have a point, but publishers have the bit between their teeth and the ear of regulators and politicians. On the other hand, maybe they are still fighting the last war since the real struggle may now be against some of the same Big Tech platforms deploying Artificial Intelligence search agents such as ChatGPT built on decades of publisher content.

Report shows drive-by readers trust news less

On the other hand, the contention that few Facebook users value the news appears to be potentially contradicted by a separate piece of research from Australian academics.

In a report ostensibly about how incidental rather than directly seeking news may lead to a deterioration of trust in news (to which the answer appears to be yes), the Australian researchers look at percentages of Facebook users as news consumers of one kind or another: incidental or intentional (just finding it on social media or actively seeking it out on social media).

It is the subset of users who find news on Facebook that may bring it towards the small percentage of total posts that are about news noted in the NERA report.

The Australian report by Sora Park and Jee Young Lee of the University of Canberra says of those exposed to news on Facebook in Australia, 54% found it intentionally and 46% found it incidentally. In Britain, the same percentages were almost exactly reversed, while in the United States, the behaviour appeared similar to that of Australian users.

It appears those incidental users are more likely to lose trust in news over time and more likely to see it associated with misinformation, the researchers suggested: “While trust in general news is no different between those who access news intentionally or incidentally, incidental exposure has a negative relationship to the trust in news on social media. This finding is more prominent among those who use social media as their primary source of news.”

The report looks at whether Facebook users look for news intentionally on the platform or run across it accidentally and shows the difference affects trust.
The report looks at whether Facebook users look for news intentionally on the platform or run across it accidentally and shows the difference affects trust.

The Canberra researchers also found — perhaps inevitably — that for those under 40, 60% relied on social media as their main source of news, but social media was still a significant source of news for those who also found news directly or on other platforms.

Readers under 40 are more likely to use social media as their primary source of news.
Readers under 40 are more likely to use social media as their primary source of news.

Social media is an important source of news for many readers, even those who primarily get their news elsewhere.
Social media is an important source of news for many readers, even those who primarily get their news elsewhere.

Trust in New Zealand media declines, but one newspaper stands out

Overall trust in New Zealand media slid for the third year running in the latest edition of a trust in news analysis carried out by New Zealand academics, using the same approach as the international trust report of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

The authors describe the decline in trust as “alarming” in a country of just over five million that has historically had high levels of social cohesion, relatively high trust in politicians, and an extensive domestic media environment — both commercial and publicly funded.

“In the three years of 2020-22, people’s trust in the news they consume dropped 10 [percentage points]. While in 2020, 62% of New Zealanders trusted the news they consumed, in 2022 the figure was 52%,” the research centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy (JMAD) and AUT, Auckland University of Technology, said in the report (its third).

In what those who urge governments to fund journalism may find a salutary lesson, the authors find that a Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF) created to help news companies survive and keep investing in public interest reporting may have backfired. A large number of respondents said they saw the media as an arm of government and therefore trusted it less.

The analysis picks up trends of fatigue and boredom found in the bigger RISJ studies.

“People are avoiding the news because they find it depressing, and negative, and it is increasing their anxiety. Many people also find news repetitive, boring, and overly dramatic,” said Dr. Merja Myllylahti, JMAD co-director, co-author of the report, and INMA blogger.

The most-trusted brands as in years before were the public broadcasters Radio New Zealand and Television New Zealand, but this year the newspaper group The Otago Daily Times was equal with them, apparently admired for engaging with its local community.

Dr. Myllylahti told me that a stand-out finding for her was boredom and fatigue with the news cycle and a sense that media outlets carried the same reports, something she thinks may reflect a downside in various content sharing arrangements between publishers — most commonly Radio New Zealand content, which is now distributed like a news agency.

She also said the concept of “mainstream media” had become weaponised and that people on the right and left now routinely attacked major outlets as favouring whichever side they supported, meaning both sides saw it as hostile to their interests.

“We need to stop using the label mainstream media and talk about journalism and not give that weapon to both sides,” she said.

About 13% of respondents said they got their news from “alternative” sources, and Facebook was the third-biggest source of news among New Zealand respondents.

Dr. Greg Treadwell, co-author of the JMAD report, noted that during 2022, journalists had come under attack from those opposed to intense lockdowns under the COVID pandemic and had borne some of the impacts of social division. The media had to tackle the trust question.

“Newsrooms must put regaining trust among their audiences at the top of their agenda for the sake of our democracy,” he said.

Recommended follow

Evan Gershkovich @evangershkovich is The Wall Street Journal correspondent in Russia arrested by authorities while reporting from the Ural city of Ekaterinburg. His Twitter account is, of course, in a state of strange stasis, but his Twitter handle is attached to @wsj and other Tweets calling for his release and explaining his situation. Media and friends are also using the hashtags #LetEvanGo #IStandWithEvan and #FreeEvan. 

Talk back

Tell me what you want to read and what you like or don't like in this newsletter, please. E-mail: There’s also an INMA Newsroom Initiative Slack channel.

About this newsletter

Today’s newsletter is written by Peter Bale, based in New Zealand and the U.K. and lead for the INMA Newsletter Initiative. Peter will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global newsrooms.

This newsletter is a public face of the Newsroom Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Peter at or with thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

About Peter Bale

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