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The Facebook news ‘experiment’ of banning news is almost over. Here is what we have learned

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It is now six days since the country’s most popular social media platform, Facebook, decided that Australians can no longer view or share links to news websites.

With yesterday’s news that the ban will soon end, it is worth looking at the results of this extensive (experiment performed without consent).

What happens when news is leaked from Facebook? How do users react?

Facebook has never done this before. There is no case study.

“We are. We are the case study,” says Axel Bruns of the Digital Media Research Center at Queensland University of Technology.

And Facebook has all the clues as to how Australians are using the platform. Just do not share it.

Meanwhile, everyone else, including researchers and reporters, relies on third-party analytics services to prove what is happening.

Although these are the first days, some trends are evident.

Most noticeable is that news sites are getting a lot less traffic from Facebook.

The graph below shows the stopping effect every hour when it was presented at 5.30 am AEDT on Thursday, February 18th.

It took several hours for the ban to start completely, but when it did, the number of links to top Australian news posted on Australian public Facebook groups fell off a cliff.

By noon, the number of links posted was only half the pre-stop figure.

And by Monday, it was down almost 80 percent. (Retired slightly on Monday because the weekend always sees a drop in Facebook activity.)

This 80 percent drop is probably an understatement as well; the result of posting automated links, or people abroad posting links to Australian news content.

This shared link figure does not include links posted in private messages or groups, but Professor Bruns says it is indicative of what would happen in those sites.

The number of interactions with Australian news sites on Australian Facebook pages went from tens of thousands to just over 100.

In fact, the Australian news on Facebook was a ghost town.

Most Australians do not rely solely on Facebook for news

Is there an “information vacuum” now or are people just getting their news elsewhere?

And how many Australians were using Facebook for news?

The answer for the latter is 39 percent, according to surveys conducted by the University of Canberra and compiled in it Digital News Report for 2020.

“But it’s not their only source of news,” said Caroline Fisher, who helped compile the report.

Only 6 percent of Australians use Facebook as their only social media platform for news.

This means that most Australians will get the news elsewhere.

Many may not realize that it has been a news ban.

Reuters Institute Digital News Report found that in 2016, about half of Australians passively consumed news on social media. They did not follow the news sites, but simply got what others shared on their networks.

“These are fairly detached news consumers,” Dr Fisher said.

“The analogy is having radio in the background. It bubbles together and they hear it from time to time.”

Increasing solutions

Have Australians found new ways to access the news now while not appearing on their Facebook resources?

A day after the ban, the ABC News app was ranked number one on the Apple App Store.

Five days later, it was reduced to 15.

The current top ranking app is the one that allows users to “record all the places you have collected”.

The data collected by Nielsen show that news sites recorded a significant drop in traffic on February 18 the first day of detention.

The total number of visits to news sites fell by 16 percent when compared to the six-day average of the previous Thursdays.

Nielsen declined to share the latest data that would have shown the effect of the ban for a longer period, but one person familiar with the figures said they showed that all major Australian news sites reported fewer readers. .

They said a “large portion” of the audience had not migrated beyond Facebook.

Facebook’s reaction to this loss of audience may be “I told you so.” The company claims to generate 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers, valued at around $ 407 million.

However, some Australians are adamant about sharing the news on Facebook.

To do this, they got scams that so far have only been used by sites that post banned content on the platform and to avoid automatic detection and moderation.

Attempts include posting screenshots or PDF versions of articles, or using link shorteners.

“You can share a tweet related to the news,” Professor Bruns said.

“You post it on Facebook and the preview will look just like the news story itself.”

Space to play or stop, M to mute, left and right arrows to search, up and down arrows for volume.

Play Video.  Duration: 1 minute 32 seconds

Treasury Josh Frydenberg says Facebook intends to sign trade deals with news publishers.

Comedy, satire page new kings of Facebook

Has the ban on Facebook news pushed some Australians to get their news from the less credible and in-depth sites they banned?

That’s possible, says Professor Bruns, though there is no evidence of this so far.

A handful of new popular sites that remained standing after the ban have not seen an increase in interactions.

“Still early to say where people are going instead,” said Professor Bruns.

Errol Parker and Clancy Overell stand in front of a Welcome sign at Betoota.
The Betoota Advocate satirical news site has been regularly among Australia’s most popular Facebook pages since the news ban.(Facebook: Lawyers in Betoota)

Comedy and satirical news sites have been doing well since the ban.

On Monday, comedy page Ozzy Man Reviewed the most popular link of each Australian Facebook page (ranked by total interactions).

It was the writing of a Texas-based news site about one of the most clickable stories of the day: the Boeing 777 that landed safely with a running engine.

Also in the top 10 that day had links to stories from The Chaser and The Betoota Advocate about the news ban and the spread of vaccines.

The day before the ban, non-satirical news sites made seven of the top 10 sites (However Ozzy Man Reviews still won).

The news sites also dominated the top 10 of the previous 12 months (though, without a doubt, some of the stories were about cute animals).

Commentator’s Department of Health page

What about users who would knock comments on Facebook news pages, making life difficult for moderators? Where have they gone?

The Department of Health Facebook page is there, says Anne Kruger, director of the Asia-Pacific offices for First Draft, a global disinformation watchdog.

Most of the posts on the site do not get much attention, but a post Monday related to a live broadcast of Health Minister ABC YouTube giving a press conference about vaccine distribution garnered more than 1,000 comments.

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Many referred to the ruined conspiracy theories about the vaccine.

Perhaps before the ban, commentators would have gone to the ABC News page, where comments were moderated.

The incident sums up the dangers of not having news on Facebook, Ms. Kruger said.

News organizations will find other ways to reach an audience, but they will not be there to counter disinformation on Facebook.

“We are really concerned about something we call data gaps or data deficits,” she said.

“When there is no quality information, that vacuum will be filled by poor information.”

Other countries are watching closely.

Microsoft is joining forces with publishers in Europe to call for an Australia-style system that will force tech platforms to pay news organizations for content.

Canada has condemned the Australian news ban and threatened to make Facebook pay for the news content.

The Washington Post even published it a piece of thought about “Broken Australia” by ABC radio presenter Sydney Richard Glover.

But Facebook knows better than most how easily the attention shifts elsewhere on the Internet.

“Facebook will monitor this very carefully to see what happens,” said Professor Bruns.

“Once all of this slows down a bit, Facebook may find that some people have complained, but others don’t care.”



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