A report commissioned by Meta about Facebook’s relationship with news providers said that publishers’ content “plays an economically small and diminishing role” on the platform. It reported that news links account for less than 3% of posts people see in their feeds and argued the value of Facebook is limited for publishers.
However, a survey of more than 100 publishers found that Facebook still holds ‘considerable sway’ in engaging young audiences.
Response to legislation
- The report has been produced by US consulting firm Nera for Facebook parent company Meta. It is being seen as a response to legislation passed in Australia in 2021 and currently being proposed around the world that could force platforms to pay publishers for the use of their content.
- Facebook has already tried to distance itself from news content, changing its algorithm regularly to downgrade publisher content. In 2022 it stopped paying US publishers to use their content in its Facebook News tab, and dropped the publisher-friendly Instant Articles format.
- The new report examines claims by the publishing industry that publishers are not adequately compensated by Meta for the use of their content on its platforms. Unsurprisingly, the report saw no ‘market failure’ and drew the conclusion that, contrary to what publishers claim, there is no imbalance of power.
- Report author Dr. Jeffrey A. Eisenach estimated that that publishers get, on average, between 1% and 1.5% of their total revenue from Facebook referrals. He described this as “small, but not immaterial”, writing:
The evidence shows that publishers benefit at least as much as Meta and that there is thus no economic case for forcing Meta to pay additional compensation to the publishers.
- The report argued against the idea that Facebook is an economic imperative for publishers, referencing data from the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority that showed 13% of publisher traffic came from the platform in 2019. Eisenach wrote:
While exposure on Facebook is valuable to publishers, Facebook is not a ‘must-have’ platform for publishers and does not have sufficient bargaining leverage to impose unreasonable terms.
Eisenach also pointed out that research conducted by Facebook has shown that many users believe there is “too much” news content on the platform. This echoes findings from The Reuters Institute’s 2022 Digital News Report, which found 21% of UK Facebook users surveyed felt there was too much news on the platform.
In contrast to Meta’s own findings, a survey of 116 publishers produced jointly by Digiday and The Washington Post’s Arc XP CMS platform, shows that publishers put Facebook top of the platforms, with 75% still using the platform to reach young audiences.
Findings show Facebook is the most successful platform for driving young audiences to publisher websites. Two thirds of survey respondents saw positive results from Facebook compared with less than half for Twitter, YouTube and TikTok.
The survey results appear to contradict the general opinion that sees Facebook as a ‘legacy dinosaur’ when it comes to attracting younger audiences and researchers have raised the idea that the results could be due in part to publishers not catching up with young audience trends and habits. Miki King, President at Arc XP said:
I largely think that the numbers you’re seeing from publishers might be because the data analysis they have has not caught up to where the consumer audience is right now.