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Regardless the social media strategy, Facebook plays a big part

By Dr. Merja Myllylahti

Auckland University of Technology (AUT)

Auckland, New Zealand

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There is hardly a day without news about Facebook. Most often the news is not good, but occasionally it is.

In the category of good news is this: Facebook just signed a copyright deal with the Alliance de la Presse d’information Generale, which represents 300 French publishers. While the move is most certainly positive, it is worth remembering that Facebook did not enter it voluntarily, and it would not have happened without the reform of digital copyright rules in Europe in 2019.

As reported by AP news, the licensing deal “is a result of a wider push by authorities in Europe and elsewhere to force Facebook to compensate publishers for content.”

For better or worse, news media have come to rely on Facebook.
For better or worse, news media have come to rely on Facebook.

How the money is split between French publishers has not been disclosed. The publishing alliance group says the deal will generate “significant financing,” especially to the smaller publishers. One can hope so.

As my recently published research confirms, news payments from Facebook and Google tend to go to the same large news organisations, hence not benefitting the regional or local news companies as much as those already in dominant and strong positions in the marketplace.

Another recent study by Benjamin Toff and Nick Matthews proposes that local news gains less attention and engagement on Facebook than national news. They researched 2.4 million Facebook posts by local news organisations in three U.S. states between 2018 and 2019. Their research found that national hard news stories generate more interest and engagement on Facebook than local news, “which may reduce incentives for local news organisations to post stories on genuinely local affairs.”

So, the local news that does not make national headlines may well disappear from the platform universe without much notice, engagement, and revenue, or without substantial platform payments.

Recently, as a part of the research for my book, I chatted to some independent news publishers about their platform relations. The experiences between the outlets vary. Some of the publishers say Google has been greatly beneficial for them.

For example, Google Subscribe has driven a substantial number of new subscriptions. Others had better experiences with Facebook’s Accelerator Programme, which has provided a boost in donations and memberships. Most of them, even those favouring Google, are surprisingly active on Facebook even though they don’t receive any content payments from the platforms yet.

Similarly, in their research, Annika Sehl, Alessio Cornia, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen found that news organisations have invested “significantly in social media,” but their approach to the same platform differs based on their “editorial ambitions, organisational imperatives, and historic legacies.” Their study shows the private sector news companies post more material on Facebook than the publicly owned media companies, which is somewhat paradoxical as many continue to see Facebook as a “frenemy.” 

The study notes that, while the private sector media companies are competing with social media platforms more fiercely than the publicly owned companies, they “seem to invest proportionally more in their social media activity for news, at least on Facebook.”

So, while Facebook continues to create controversies and headlines and pays news organisations unevenly if at all, one thing has not changed: the social media platform continues to be a big part of the news distribution strategy.

About Dr. Merja Myllylahti

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