Do Regular Users Miss the Presence of News On Facebook? Maybe Not

The dropping of news links on Facebook has certainly been noticeable, but do users miss the news? Maybe not.

With news links disappearing on Facebook, it marked the end of the debate on whether or not it was all a big fancy bluff. Any hope that the mythical concept that Meta platforms depend entirely on news links were completely dashed. Really, the only question at this stage is when is Google going to follow suit. It does seem like not a question of “if”, but “when”.

Of course, anyone who was even remotely paying attention would understand that the outcome was inevitable. The axiom that publishers need platforms more than platforms need publishers has held true from the very beginning. That held especially true when the 2nd boycott of Meta completely and spectacularly failed. Users most certainly did not leave Facebook in droves when the media lobby came calling. What’s more, nearly a month after the news links blocking, traffic to Facebook remained unchanged, meaning whatever pain Facebook underwent with the absence of news, it was so little that it was completely undetectable.

Anecdotally, users have noticed the absence of news. Some people I spoke to said that it was “weird” suddenly no longer seeing news on the platform. What everyone also told me (people who were not invested in this debate in the first place, so truly ordinary users) was that they don’t go to Facebook for news. News links happen to be in their feed while scrolling, so they may stop, click the link, and read. However, news links wasn’t the primary reason for being there in the first place. This anecdotal evidence lines up nicely with the other evidence I’ve seen. Users will read the news articles through the links because it was a convenience thing, but no one was going to Facebook ‘to read the news’.

These observations also line up nicely with some noted Peter Menzies recent Hub article. From The Hub:

When Meta failed to flinch, Trudeau, who is personally invested in this legislation, weighed in.

“Facebook is putting corporate profits ahead of people’s safety,” Trudeau said firmly upon returning from a family surfing vacation.

Meta’s actions, he added, were “inconceivable.”

To be fair, he probably believed that. After all, the government and those who lobbied for the bill (and at one point figured they’d be hauling in as much as $100,000 per journo as a result) still hold to the prayer that Meta is bluffing about getting out of the news business. They truly believe news is vital to Meta’s bottom line. It isn’t.

So by the end of August, Mark Zuckerberg’s California-based company had pretty much completed its shutdown of news on Facebook in Canada. Instagram is almost there and next comes Threads. While there’s no doubt some users are missing the presence of news links, Meta’s initial testing indicated Facebook was a happier place without them and the harassment and bullying complaints that they trigger.

Some of the other comments made by Menzies also lines up nicely with earlier observations I personally published here. The news media companies have become convinced that they are the centre of attention. For them, this always has been the case and always will be the case. The problem is, through the internet, users can get their information elsewhere. This might include through government information, officials announcing something, and more. Information on daily events are no longer bottle necked through the media outlets.

For the media companies, this is an entirely foreign concept because they have just grown accustomed to the idea of being the gatekeepers of information, no matter what. If something was interesting, they were the ones telling you about it. If something is concerning, they are the ones saying that it is a concern. The notion that people are getting their information somewhere else just doesn’t compute with them. At the very least, it does provide hints as to why they thought the way they did throughout the debates – however erroneously it turned out to be.

With the advent of the internet, it became less about the messenger and more about the user. What does the user want? They can get that on demand. Do they want to see someone speedrun Super Mario Odyssey? That is readily available. Do they want to find out about new music? That is readily available. Do they want to find out about the latest in technology news? That is readily available. The key important aspect is serving the wants and needs of the user rather than it being all about the person streaming that content out to users. It’s a fundamental shift almost anyone familiar with the internet understands and the media companies would be better off understanding sooner rather than later.

In the mean time, users will carry on with using Facebook. It may look a bit different now, but users aren’t going anywhere with news links disappearing. The question is, how long does the media companies want to stick to their guns and kick themselves out of these large platforms? As long as whatever the media companies come up with involves anything other than rescinding the law, then the media companies will continue to be left behind.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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