One big NZ publisher has already quit Facebook. Here's how it's going

One big NZ publisher has already quit Facebook. Here's how it's going

If Facebook follows through on its threat to remove Australian news articles from its platform, the social media giants predicts it will be a multi-million dollar hit each month to the nation's struggling media businesses.

But over the ditch, New Zealand's largest publisher has been boycotting the site for almost two months.

Stuff stopped updating its 953,000-strong Facebook page on July 6 as part of an international campaign against Facebook's lack of action on hate speech and disinformation on its platform.

It also pulled the pin on its 134,000-follower Instagram page. Instagram is a subsidiary of Facebook.

The publisher had already suspended advertising on Facebook soon after the 2019 mosque attacks in Christchurch. The massacre was broadcast live on the site and the social media giant was criticised for failing to block the spread of images of the terrorist attack.

Stuff editor-in-chief Patrick Crewdson said the trial halt of posting to its Facebook and Instagram accounts was "still a live experiment" but it had been backed by readers.

"The loudest reader feedback has been praising our position as principled," Crewdson said.

"We've seen an increase in donors coming through the Stuff Supporter Program specifically citing our Facebook stance."

There are concerns though that blocking news on Facebook would worsen the spread of misinformation on the platform.

Responsibility Technology Australia's executive director Chris Cooper said, "That Facebook would suggest blocking news in the middle of a pandemic, when accurate information is a key plank of the public health response really tells you all you need know about how much Zuckerberg cares about Australian society and cohesion."

"These platforms create attention-optimising algorithms that lead to echo chambers, polarisation, and the disproportionate amplification of dangerous fringe voices. Of course this wasn't their original intention, but it's the reality now, and it's time for public oversight to minimise the harms this causes."

The social media giant is throwing its weight around in order to scare Australia into abandoning a world-first news code that would allow media companies to bargain with Google and Facebook over payment for news content on its platforms. Facebook says media organisations benefit far more from it than it does from them.

"Over the first five months of 2020 we sent 2.3 billion clicks from Facebook's news feed back to Australian news websites at no charge - additional traffic worth an estimated $200 million AUD to Australian publishers," Facebook warned.

While Facebook says news is a small part of its business, it is a key way Australians access news.

The University of Canberra's 2020 Digital News Report found 39 per cent of Australians used Facebook for general news, and 49 per cent used Facebook for news about COVID-19.

However misinformation on Facebook was one of the major reasons Stuff was taking a break from the platform, Crewdson said.

"Accurate, verified news from a trustworthy media outlet is the necessary antidote to misinformation, but being on Facebook can actually serve to erode the credibility of news because of the misleading, wrong or even dangerous material you're surrounded by," he said.

"Allowing and even amplifying misinformation as Facebook has is anathema to our journalistic values and our commitment to providing trustworthy information. We've seen that New Zealanders are increasingly troubled by misinformation spreading on social media, and COVID-19 has given the issue even greater importance."

Many publishers can't afford to take such a stance though.

In the six months to July, 180 Australian newsrooms closed as advertising revenue dried up due to the coronavirus.

Part of the reason why the code has been deemed necessary is the huge power imbalance between news outlets and digital platforms.

The ACCC said, "While bargaining power imbalances exist in other areas, the bargaining power imbalance between news media businesses and major digital platforms is being addressed, as a strong and independent media landscape is essential to a well-functioning democracy."

So while Facebook may be unwilling to pay for news, it is Australians who will bear the true cost.

This story One big NZ publisher has already quit Facebook. Here's how it's going first appeared on The Canberra Times.