Facebook Mulls Purging News Links from It’s Main Feed, Stop Paying Link Taxes

It seems that the cost of paying for news links has gotten way too high for Facebook, and removing news links is now an option.

More and more countries have actively considered, or are actively pushing, link taxes. This after the Australian link tax became law back in early 2021. Initially, Google and Facebook resisted the law, saying that they would pull links to news if Australia would move forward with this crazy idea. The resistance got experts nodding, knowing that paying for linking is an absurd idea and that the idea should be a dead on arrival concept given how this would completely upend the nature of copyright and attack at the very building blocks of the World Wide Web.

However, Google and Facebook then flip-flopped and went along with the link tax idea. Google unveiled their Google News showcase while Facebook inked deals with publishers. The move shocked experts and observers who were scrambling to make sense why they suddenly folded like a cheap lawn chair even though they hold so many cards in the situation.

While the decision makes no sense from a market perspective, it does make sense from an anti-competitive perspective. When you greatly raise the cost of doing business for anyone wanting to get in on the social media or search industry, you basically squash potential competitors in the process. That all sounds well and good for monopolist perspective, it is also a short term win. As we’ve said all along, with big Australian publishers (namely Rupert Murdoch) getting what they want, big publishing in other countries are going to be running to Facebook and Google wanting their pound of flesh too. The only effect this would have is the cost of doing business going up just because publishers want a free ride off of a successful industry.

Like everyone predicted, many other countries did start pushing for their own version of link taxes. This includes France, the United States and Canada to name three (there are others). What’s more, publishers who got a deal already have already complained that they aren’t getting enough money and traffic and were calling for more money and traffic be pushed their way.

It seems that Facebook started getting second thoughts on this whole link tax concept in the first place. Even in April, Facebook admitted that they are reconsidering this whole link tax situation and possibly going back to the position they should have had from the very beginning: if you force us to pay for linking to news sites, then publishers will not get linked to. The Canadian government responded by basically throwing a temper tantrum and made the hilarious argument that moving away from linking to news would be really uncool and really unpopular, though that argument really didn’t convince anyone who knows better in this situation.

Of course, the second thoughts to linking to news isn’t just tied to Canada. This is seemingly becoming a much broader and general move across the board with news sites all over the world. An article on Nieman Lab points out that out of 1,000 links, only 4 links to a news site. So, paying billions of dollars for link taxes doesn’t exactly make that much business sense in the long run:

But let’s face it: They’ve been growing apart for years. They don’t share the same interests, they fight all the time, and what was once a fruitful partnership has devolved into gritted-teeth toleration. There was real love, once, long ago. But it’s probably best for everyone involved if they separate and start seeing other people.

It looks like that’s exactly what the social media giant is doing: getting as far away from the news business as it can.

So on one hand, Facebook might stop writing checks to news publishers, having found they don’t make its PR problems go away. And on the other, Facebook wants to demote what little news still remains in its primary feed, having found that it doesn’t keep users engaged as much as an algorithm-generated stream of random videos.

This is what a breakup looks like. Facebook was not originally intended to be the world’s largest distributor of human attention to news stories. It became that, circa 2015. But that responsibility became a nuisance, and it’s spent the past seven years walking away from it. These two stories signal how ready for a divorce Facebook really is.

In one way, the timing is very fitting. It was seven years ago today that Donald J. Trump took his infamous escalator ride and announced that he was running for president. That moment changed America in countless ways — but I’d argue it was also the beginning of the end for Facebook and news’ relationship.

The media will no doubt have an absolute fit because this is the nuclear option that basically wipes them from the picture. Big publishing pushed harder and harder and ultimately put their relationship with Facebook to the breaking point. Really, only executives for big publishers are the only ones that didn’t see this one coming – though that wouldn’t be a surprise given how often big news outlets are run by idiots in the first place. After all, they legitimately thought that linking to them was akin to copyright infringement which is not an idea pushed by someone who has any knowledge about how basic copyright and fair dealing/use works in the first place. This over top of dismissing the Internet as some silly fad that would go away on its own. Again, complete idiots.

Mike Masnick of Techdirt comments that such a move would solve two problems at once:

Of course, as Benton notes throughout the article, there are plenty of other reasons for Facebook to abandon the news business entirely. It’s actually not what most people use Facebook for (he has citations to stats that suggest most users don’t even want to use it for news), and Facebook regularly gets blamed for all sorts of stuff, based on how news (and fake news) is shared on the site.

So, getting rid of news entirely kills two birds with one stone. It takes some heat off of Facebook… and it removes the need to pay these massive sums to shut up Murdoch and others.

If one of the goals was to eliminate “fake news”, this effort will largely fail. We’ve observed that fake news is spread by posting images of lying memes as well as screenshots of articles as well. What’s more, misinformation is also spread through sharing video’s as well. So, misinformation won’t go away just because news links have been purged from the network. It will eliminate some of the money going to dedicated troll farms and far right fake news organizations, but disinformation will continue to proliferate anyway.

What this will do is cut out the large news outlets efforts to freeload off of Facebook. The unfortunate aspect aspect is that it will hurt the smaller players who have been trying to find small ways of getting a following – most of whom never asked for a link tax in the first place. By taking away news, the ensuing traffic will simply get cut out of the picture. For some outlets, this can mean a death sentence for the site assuming so much focus can be spent on pulling some pageviews out of Facebook. For someone like us, this will only be the most minor of small blips in traffic given that we get under 30 pageviews from the platform per month. Our response, luckily, is “meh” thanks to our efforts to make Freezenet platform censorship resistant.

Still, such a decision will have significant collateral damage to smaller news outlets. The question is, where do they turn to should this decision take hold? Social news networks have, for the last decade, have moved away from promoting smaller news outlets to simply linking to bigger outlets. Others have simply moved towards the sharing of memes and short video’s that have nothing to do with news. There’s no question there are going to be those that will be significantly impacted by this – and many of them had nothing to do with this petty and stupid fight in the first place.

No doubt, some publishers are going to react to this by calling it something stupid like “blackmail” or calling for legislation that orders platforms to carry their news in the first place (very unconstitutional).

Overall, this is a situation where there is plenty of blame to go around here. The publishers share the most by demanding something as ridiculous as this in the first place. The big platforms also share some of the blame by being dumb enough to go along with this scheme, thinking that it won’t cost them that much in the first place (they were clearly wrong). Going back so late in the game is going to cause a whole lot more damage for everyone involved. It’s unfortunate that so many innocent parties will wind up getting hurt in all of this along the way.

While the situation is unfortunate, it is also highly predictable. Ever since Google and Facebook folded under pressure, the outcome that the cost of doing business going up was very clear from the beginning. It sucks that it took a year for the likes of Google and Facebook to figure this out, but judging by Facebooks reactions these days, they are, at the very least, realizing that they may have made a horrible mistake when they agreed to restore their news feed in Australia. Maybe that crazy guy on that obscure Freezenet site along with other observers were right all along.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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