Editorial September 4th 2020
Where do you get your news? With Facebook threatening to remove International, National and Local News from your Facebook feed you might now wonder how that affects you if you rely on social media for your news. Facebook has stated that Australia has left them with two choices: "removing news entirely or accepting a system that lets publishers charge us for as much content as they want at a price with no clear limits."
"Unfortunately, no business can operate that way," it said.
"Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram," the post said. That is pretty definitive. Publishers (like the Beagle, ABC, 7NEWS, The Guardian, Eurobodalla Council) and people (community groups, you) in Australia Facebook also owns Instagram and WhatsApp that will also be part of the mix if they decide to go ahead with their threat. Many in the community enjoy their daily feed of news. There are those who have bookmarks on their PCs and Tablets to News websites whilst others choose to follow News accounts social media such as ABC, ABC South East, 2EC, the Braidwood Bugle and even The Beagle. A new trend is for local community pages such as the Batemans Bay Notice Board, Tomakin Community to also share media releases they subscribe to from NSW Health, the Local Member for Bega, Eurobodalla Council as well as local police and emergency services. Presently there is a wealth of news for those who seek it out. Much of it is accurate and much of it is timely. During the bushfires Facebook played a vital role in informing the community of the status of fires and provided a running commentary as was required. The community looked to social media out of frustration at the slow updates that were coming from Fires Near Me that tended to advise what had happened rather than report what was happening NOW. Each and all of you have your own methods to glean news and to determine what is factual. The convenience of having that news feed in a single platform that provides a freely accessible and timely update (depending on who you follow) at the swipe of a finger has become the norm. Australians have come to expect quality news for free and accessible when and where they wish. While the media say that Facebook is stealing its advertising revenue and should pay them for their content it is the media companies that rely on Facebook as a tool to disseminate their news. The Beagle website has over 30,000 unique readers per month who enjoy accessing their local news daily, weekly or spasmodically. The readers are spread across the planet and enjoy FREE access to the website. The Beagle also has 4300 subscribers to our FREE, twice weekly, local news mailouts that are delivered via email. Both of the above sets of readers proactively engage in local news and both have found it outside of social media. There is, however, a second group of of 10,000 Beagle readers who simply enjoy their newsfeed via Facebook, happy to engage in Beagle articles or other articles considered to be of interest that the Beagle has shared from other sources such as ABC, emergency services or local community groups. Should Facebook go ahead and remove News feed, as threatened, then these 10,000 Beagle Facebook followers will need to make the decision go outside of Facebook to find their International, National and local news. At a local level the same will no doubt apply to those who follow ABC South East, 2EC, About Regional, The Braidwood Bugle and the ACM mastheads (that appear to have already walked away from Facebook with their now rare postings). Gone too will be any International, National and local news feed via Instagram or WhatsApp. While Twitter will remain available it will require a universal move by readers to make a switch to that platform should the news providers move their efforts to service an expanded news feed. New Zealand publisher Stuff hit the pause button on all Facebook activity and is trialling ceasing all activity on Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram. Nearly 953,000 people follow the Stuff news Facebook page and 134,000 follow its Instagram account. It also has dozens of other Facebook pages for its various titles and brands. Stuff stopped advertising on Facebook soon after the mosque attacks in Christchurch in 2019, as it did not wish to contribute financially to a platform that profits off publishing hate speech and violence. Overnight all news feed from Stuff to Facebook and Instagram ceased. In recent years, European countries have tried and largely failed to force the mega -platforms to give more money to publishers. Now it is Australia's turn and the mega-platforms are fighting back saying that they, in fact, direct readers from Google and Facebook to news websites that then monetise visitation. When Spain enacted a law in 2014 forcing Google to pay for headlines and news summaries in Google News, Google removed Spanish news outlets, dealing a blow to the nation's news industry, primarily because many of those outlets rely on Google Ads that return dividends based on impressions and click throughs. The Beagle made a clear decision from the outset four years ago to NOT have any embedded 'targeted' ads that responded to a readers web history. Instead we provided real, affordable advertising for our local businesses that hyperlinked to their websites and promoted their services. While we use Facebook as a delivery tool for local news we do not depend on it for any revenue (we actually pay Facebook to boost posts to ensure wider community distribution). Presently The Beagle will wait and watch to see how this all pans out and will continue to provide a social media presence to local news as we believe it is essential for all of our community to be informed and included. One good thing that might come from this is that they go ahead with their threat which will drive all those seeking the news to turn to credible news sources rather than being constantly exposed to social media's Fake News, Whispers, Rumours and Hearsay. With no credible news at all on Facebook it will be easy to spot the Fake news as that will be the only news that sees the light of day as all registered official sources will be blocked to stop YOU from reading or sharing. This may be yet another paradigm shift to a world evolving to seeking out new ways. In the meantime think about where you get your news, how much you value that news, and how much effort you are/will be prepared to go to access quality, timely Australian news.