Noam Bardin (above) founder of Post
When Meta announced it would soon deprecate Facebook News in the UK, France, and Germany – its largest European markets – the company positioned the move as all but inevitable.
It was not.
Facebook News, the platform's dedicated news tab for journalism, launched with much fanfare just before the pandemic in 2019. Brought to market first in the US, and then internationally across Europe and in Australia, Facebook News was curated by humans and an algorithm, aiming to ensure local relevance and that fact-based journalism would be given its proper voice on the platform.
The very existence of Facebook News was a testament to the fact that Meta (then, still known as Facebook) had a problem: In a world where half of people get their news from the platform, fact-based journalism was under attack.
The removal of Facebook News will make it that much harder for millions of people to access fact-based journalism. The ultimate result is a citizenry with a warped view of society, in which extremists are given a bigger microphone than the rest of us, and doomscrolling leaves us with a deep-seated animosity toward our neighbors, our society, and ourselves.
Large tech conglomerates wield a diverse arsenal to limit the reach of the free press, from algorithmic downranking of news to monopolising advertising revenue. These platforms have also shown their willingness to align with authoritarian regimes at the expense of freedom of speech, such as when Twitter censored the Turkish Election and Facebook censored citizens in Vietnam.
Today's dominant social media platforms are all ad-based. Their profits rely on capturing and keeping your attention at any cost, including amplifying the extremes. These tech giants have learned that the more toxic, enraging, and divisive the content they surface, the more engaged their user bases become, resulting in more time spent on their platforms and more associated ad views.
With Europe rolling out its Digital Services Act, the situation will only get worse. As governments attempt to force platforms to pay journalists for their hard work, Meta and others are getting ready to protect their wallets – and to avoid regulation, the only real threat to their monopolies.
In Australia, platforms like Google simply paid up when the government passed new legislation requiring them to compensate publishers for content distributed through their platforms.
In Canada, Meta went nuclear, blocking the sharing of all news content outright – by users or by publishers – greatly limiting the reach of fact-based news. This occurred even as wildfires blazed across the continent and governments attempted to share timely information to keep their citizens safe.
While Meta says it has no such plans to block news-sharing in Europe, that stance could change at any time. (Facebook has a long history, documented in US congressional hearings, of doing what serves its interests best, then apologising to those it harms.)
Of course, these tech titans are justified in their fear of regulation. The Digital Services Act will greatly impede the platforms' ability to capture, store, and share data – and, likely, their bottom lines.
Conversely, journalists, editors, and publishers would do well to rethink their own distribution strategies and business models before Big Tech gets even more reactionary. Here’s how:
- Look for new traffic sources. For too long, online publishers have relied on Facebook and Twitter as their main sources of traffic. With these changes, publishers around the world are already noticing sharp decreases in referral traffic from these platforms. This is likely to continue.
- Diversify your business model. Subscriptions are the holy grail for any business, signaling recurring revenue and stability. But only the largest media companies can build sustainable businesses through subscriptions, and paywalls create friction for would-be readers. At Post, we are helping people access top-quality journalism, one article at a time, for a few cents via built-in micropayments, and it is working.
- Partner with platforms that support fact-based news. The stakes are high. Media companies must partner with those who share their values and are steadfast in their commitment to fact-based journalism.
An informed citizenry is necessary for a free and democratic society. To ensure fact-based journalism survives and thrives, we need to stop being reactive and start charting our own destiny. We need to say, "enough is enough," and seek out alternatives that compensate news organisations fairly while building a smarter, more civil society.
Noam Bardin is the founder of Post, a social news platform for real news, real people, and civil conversations. Prior to launching Post in 2022, Noam founded and served as CEO of Waze, one of the world's most talked-about startups through its acquisition by Google in June 2013.