In this week’s edition we take a look at the topic of Facebook pulling the plug on news site sharing in Australia, and the wider impact globally on social networks and news. We also have as usual my must-read articles of the week.
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The week in review
Social media and how we consume news: since social networks began, they have been a place for sharing news. I myself worked at one of the largest newspapers in the UK in 2007 when Twitter was same age Clubhouse is now, and we invited a group of high profile bloggers into the newsroom to meet some senior executives and see how things worked. We asked them at a roundtable, how many you read news through social media? Five out of six said they did. For me this was a jaw drop moment. It was 2007. Social media wasn’t remotely mainstream. And granted, this was a group of the earliest of social media influencers, but with such a majority already using social media to graze the news, rather than heading directly to news sites, I could see clearly back then what lay ahead.
The percentage of the general public that read their news now through social media is considerable. In the UK, it’s 39 per cent of adults. In the US, it is 48 per cent, and in Australia, 52 per cent. In Kenya, the world’s top ranking country for this statistic, 77 per cent of adults read the news through a social network.
Facebook bans news: this week we saw Facebook make the decision to pull the plug on news sites in Australia, after months of discussion from local government about whether social networks are a benefit to the news economy or not. The issue at play is, when people read the news on social media, and don’t click on what they see therefore not actually contributing financially to the news media companies creating the news, is that fair?
Australia’s precedent: with a proportion of internet users not even ending up at a news media organisation’s website, let alone potentially paying to subscribe to that website, or even buying the newspaper, the Australian government stepped in, announcing it out charge a new tax to social networks for what they are doing to the economy. Facebook’s response was a big surprise to me. The social network announced: “In response to Australian government legislation, Facebook restricts the posting of news links and all posts from news Pages in Australia. Globally, the posting and sharing of news links from Australian publications is restricted.”
As a result, local news outlet ABC News shot to the top of the app store charts in Australia as people took to other means of receiving their news - a sign, surely, of the scale of news consumption that was taking place over Facebook.
The issue as I see it is about net beneficiaries: a proportion of people, of those 52 per cent of adults in Australia who read the news on social media, will end up on the news outlet’s website, and this benefits the news organisation. Through advertising, paid content and other means, the audience makes news media money. However, a large proportion of this audience grazes on the social networks, surfing trending topics, and this serves little purpose to the news outlets other than brand awareness. It creates huge benefit for the social networks, as their sites and apps get the advertising revenues.
Do you graze news on social media? Do you think social media will be worse off if Facebook and its empire stopped the sharing of news on its sites? I do. And I think shared revenues for shared content is the way forward, just like content owners on YouTube or Spotify. What lies ahead will be a chain reaction of governments exploring this same issue over and over again, and I think the writing is on the wall for social networks to re-write the rules.
My must reads from this week
Here are the most interesting stories that I have been reading this week.
The rise of cults on social media: NY Times on the ‘strange cults’ that are marauding social networks and growing in power each day.
Social networks are struggling with balancing safety and free speech: The Wall Street Journal says that “content moderation rules used to be a question of taste. Now, they can determine a service’s prospects for survival.”
Social media CEOs appearing in senate on 25 March: on the topic of disinformation.
The inevitability of Clubhouse: love it, hate it or just don’t get it, Clubhouse, which “centralizes creation and consumption into a feedback loop, will do for audio what Twitter, Stories, and TikTok did for text, images, and video.”
Clubhouse hits 8.1m users, up from 3.5 two weeks ago: according to new data published by the BBC.
Keir Starmer on Clubhouse: first of the high profile political appearances on Clubhouse is the UK opposition leader, who will be interviewed by Mike Butcher of Techcrunch.
Audio social networking in Africa and Asia: Clubhouse is most frequently associated with Silicon Valley, but it’s taking off everywhere from Japan to Nigeria.
“I helped build ByteDance's vast censorship machine”: an stunning interview with an insider, who explains the complex moderation process at China’s ByteDance, owner of TikTok. “I wasn't proud of it, and neither were my coworkers.”
Myanmar military removed from Facebook: as a result of “repeated violations of Community Standards prohibiting incitement of violence and coordinating harm.”
Facebook expands climate disinformation program: the social network goes global with this initiative that was previously just taking place in the UK.
HBR interview with a business leader who burned out: “It takes more than self-discipline to prevent burnout. You need to rely on others.”
Hiring the best talent in a virtual world: Wired looks at the reasons a role would be in demand in 2021, now that plush offices are no longer a bargaining chip.
CEO interview - Koo: How India’s Koo became the country’s Hindu nationalist–approved Twitter alternative.
The New York Times has featured Battenhall’s above work on Clubhouse in its feature: Clubhouse, a Tiny Audio Chat App, Breaks Through.
I was interviewed on the topic of social media and regulation for PR Week for its podcast.
The Social Media Report is written by Drew Benvie, founder & CEO of Battenhall, The Drum, CIPR and GDXA’s social media consultancy of the year 2020.