Facebook says its free news feed is helping journalism


Facebook has told the Australian competition regulator that news makes up just 5% of the content shared on the platform, and the social media giant is helping journalism by providing a free global distribution service for publishers.

In its submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into the impact of digital platforms on media and advertising, Facebook also downplayed its collection and use of people’s data, saying many organisations, including newspapers, collected similar data.

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In a 56-page document, the company said the Facebook news feed was less than 5% news, and was a “free platform for global content distribution and promotion” which allowed publishers to connect with readers and advertisers. Facebook offers tools and products to publishers which allows them to promote their content and reach new readers.

This week Google said in its submission it was not contributing to the death of journalism.

Facebook criticised some of the information in the ACCC’s issues paper as inaccurate in its portrayal of the digital ecosystem of Facebook, publishers, businesses and consumers. The inquiry is looking into the the impact of Facebook, Google and Apple on the level of choice in news content and its quality.

A graphic published by the ACCC “does not adequately convey the value that digital platforms provide to consumers”, Facebook said.

Facebook portrayed itself as just one platform among many in a rapidly changing environment which demanded constant innovation and was competing for advertising with Snapchat, Google, YouTube, Amazon and others.

The average person now used eight different services to connect with friends and businesses and Facebook was just one of them competing for the attention of consumers and advertisers, the company said. Facebook said it spent more than $6bn a year on research and development to keep up with its competitors in innovation.

“If we stop innovating someone else will innovate around us – making us obsolete,” the submission said. “We know if we cease to be useful people will leave.”

But it admitted its privacy settings and other tools had been too hard to find and information about data collection was not clear. It said it had recently improved those services, but users should understand that their information was key to providing a personalised service.

“Our core value to consumers comes from the highly personalised and relevant experience we provide,” the submission said. “Information that people provide about themselves allows us to provide this experience and is therefore integral to the Facebook experience.”

Earlier this month Australia’s privacy commissioner launched an investigation to determine whether Facebook had breached the Australian Privacy Act after it was revealed up to one in 50 local users may have had their personal information accessed by Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook said in its submission that combating the spread of fake news was a priority. It was now banning advertisers who spread false information and users would see less content from those who shared clickbait headlines – even though the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, admitted it would “considerably impact our profitability”.

The submission emphasised the benefits to local businesses from advertising on Facebook. More than 200 million people around the world were connected to an Australian business and most of them were small players, it said. More than 350,000 local businesses spent less than $US100 on advertising on Facebook in 2017.

In a separate submission to the inquiry, the ABC said it worked with Facebook, Google and other digital platforms to distribute its content, to increase engagement and to ensure more people discovered ABC content.

In 2017, 49.9% of Australians between the ages of 18 and 75 accessed ABC news and current affairs content, and the ABC reached 18.8% of Australian adults each week through third-party digital platforms, the submission said.

“The challenge of monetising digital content in this disrupted and increasingly global media landscape has coincided with a decline in the level of trust the public places in traditional sources of news media,” the ABC said.

“Simultaneously, digital platforms have contributed to an increase in public concern about fake news and there is a growing demand for news and journalistic content that is explained and verified.

“In this environment, the ABC – an independent and trusted Australian media organisation – has an increasingly important role to play; 81% of Australian adults trust the information provided by the ABC.”


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