Meta's news allergy

By: Rob Corbidge, 07 September 2023

 sneezing man being hit by a newspaper, high resolution, urban landscape

As the Facebook dedicated news tab dies a death, and Meta money is withdrawn for news reporter funding, what is their strategy? 

Publishers want to be on platforms in order to take people off them and lead them into their content. Platforms want people on them, and they don't much like people leaving.

A simplification of course, yet this is the essential mechanism that can never be a solid basis for a mutually beneficial relationship between the two camps in the longer term.

Remember Facebook Instant Articles (FBIA)? Turns out they were canned in October 2022. No one mourned their passing. Only a few noticed. 

Despite numerous boasts about better load time and how revenue share would work, this was an attempt by Facebook (as it was at the time of their introduction in 2015) to corral content within their platform. That is exactly what you would expect them to do and anyone who supposed their motive was otherwise was deluded.

If only Meta had to refund the development costs that many news publishers carried for FBIA integration.

So it is that Meta this week announced that Facebook's news tab is to be deprecated in France, Germany and the UK. In addition to this, it was also revealed this week that Meta had ended funding for the Community News Project in the UK. An arrangement that paid for local news reporters in the UK using cash ultimately from Meta.

So is Meta leaving the news game? Of course it isn't. It just doesn't want the political hassle that goes with responsibility and monitoring difficult content, and paying for it. Let's not forget what happened in Myanmar. I struggle to think of a publisher that could have a charge laid against its door as serious as that.

Add to that the glacial and disinterested way that their much-vaunted Oversight Board deals with the most serious issues, and it's not a pretty picture.

Meta seemingly has an issue when its high-handedness hits reality, in the Metaverse for example, where reporters who logged on came back with some fairly unsettling stories.

Likely then this is a move to pre-empt any cash-for-content laws in the three targeted major Western European countries. If you're not in the news game, you don't have to pay for it.

The News Tab itself seems to have been an unloved thing anyway. One suspects Meta's user stats can be made to agree with whatever point they wish to make, yet few on either side of the content/platform equation will note its passing.

Facebook users can still view links to news articles of course, and publishers will continue to have access to their own Facebook accounts and pages after the deprecation in December, Meta said. No new deals for news content will be signed, and Meta will offer no product innovations for news publishers in Germany, France or the UK.

We're in another phase of the tech revolution, where the consequences of what has changed need to be addressed, especially where they have changed for the worse.

Meta's ongoing battle in Canada over cash-for-content will reveal how much users value the platform. That doesn't necessarily mean users leaving or not leaving, but how they perceive a product that has become highly prevalent and whether that supranational platform operates in their best, more localised, interests.

Anyway, we're off to apply for a job as news reporter on the Metaverse Times. It's sunny, and we're lazy, so having absolutely zero to report on in a $36 billion project as nothing is happening there would quite suit us.