More Data Concludes Social Media is Driving Even Less Traffic to News Sites

While Bill C-18 supporters continue to insist that social media depends entirely on news links, more data is showing otherwise.

The large news websites in Canada are already getting a nice healthy taste of “finding out”. This thanks to the recent announcement by Meta that 5% of Canadian users are going to be randomly chosen to be part of a test. That test being that Canadian news links will get blocked from being shared. Now, if a number of big media outlets and their supporters were not flat out lying when they say that social media linking to their content is stealing, this development would be welcome with open arms.

The bills supporters and the media lied.

Any semblance of common sense about how the internet works at the most basic level would know that these lies were obvious. In response to the development that the platforms might begin not stealing their news articles (AKA permitting links to the news publishers sites on their platforms), Big Media rolled out Big Lie 2.0 and said that not allowing them to post links on the platforms is censoring the media. Again, any basic level of how the internet works and the definition of censorship would lead any reasonable person to conclude that the media and the bills supporters are completely full of it. Still, the bills supporters continue to insist that the platforms are stealing from them and that if they stopped stealing from them, then that’s also bad… or something. Their arguments never made any sense.

Now that the test at Meta is under way, there is now growing doubt that this is actually the right approach among the media companies. The ones that don’t have deals are about to get choked off of a huge source of their traffic. The ones that have deals are now seeing that those deals are now under threat along with seeing a major source of their traffic choked off. Some, however, are still doubling down and firmly believing that if they just wished hard enough and loyally believe enough, that the problems will magically solve themselves and they’ll get that money gravy train flowing any day now.

… any day now.

This magical thinking was on full display yesterday when Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez, spoke to the media. He responded to some rather serious questions with sputtering and complete nonsense. He said at one point that Meta only blocked news links for a week in Australia, then they came to the table. So, that will just happen here to because reasons. He seemingly urged his loyal supporters to just hold on and hold out while they pass the bill while refusing to compromise. Who knows? Maybe a unicorn will be present while the bill receives royal assent. You never know, right?

While a number of the bills supporters continue to insist on living in fantasy land filled with magical thinking and pixie dust, the real internet world continues to march on. New data suggests that social media traffic to news organization websites is continuing to be in free fall. From TechDirt:

The PressGazette has had a series of stories lately highlighting how social media is increasingly less relevant in driving traffic to media orgs. After looking at where traffic to media orgs is coming from, the PressGazette finds that, in basically every case, social media is sending less and less traffic to media sites. And that’s especially true for the social media sites most commonly associated with news.

The PressGazette notes that traffic has plummeted from Facebook to media orgs:

But, still, the larger point is that the whole concept being pushed in these link tax bills, such as the CJPA here in California, is that social media companies are somehow unfairly stealing revenue from news orgs. When, from what we can see, it looks like social media companies don’t much care about news. It’s not driving much usage at all.

It’s possible this is why the media orgs are so desperate for these corrupt link tax government handouts, but it really suggests that the reasoning behind them, that social media is unfairly “profiting” from news, is simply not supported by the data at all.

Anyone who finds this shocking and/or surprising simply hasn’t been paying attention to the debates. Last year, it was found that a mere 4 in every 1,000 posts in Facebooks main feed contains a news article link. During the Senate hearings on Bill C-18, Alphabet pointed out that search queries for news sites makes up less than 2% of all search queries on their services. Likewise, Meta said during their Senate hearings that news is highly replaceable. The platforms, in this case, heard from their users and, overwhelmingly, their users said that they have absolutely no interest in news whatsoever. This trend sucks for sites like mine, but I, at least, don’t kid myself into thinking that the data doesn’t apply to me.

This latest study only further adds to the growing body of evidence that users just don’t find news that interesting. They’d rather communicate with each other, share family photos, or pass around the odd meme or two. The distancing from the news by the overall population isn’t healthy, but this is the problem we have today. The media can pretend all it likes that they are the centre for attention, but advertisers, the users, and those who run the analytics numbers know better. The sooner the large media outlets admit that the problem is attracting people to the news, the sooner the problems they face today can finally start getting resolved. Link taxes are only going to be destined to be an exercise in the media shooting themselves in the foot as they push themselves further into obscurity.

Sadly, this is going to be another stack of evidence that the supporters of Bill C-18 are going to ignore. Experts and observers have tried bargaining and reasoning for the better part of two years. Unfortunately, no amount of explaining how things work in the real world is going to change their minds. So, it looks like the large media outlets will have to learn the hard way here in Canada. There doesn’t appear to be much slowing this bill down and it seems destined for passage. As a result, things are only going to get a whole lot worse for everyone working in the media before things get better. If it takes a burned hand for the large media outlets to learn that the stove is hot, at this stage, so be it.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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