What the Zuck?
Australia woke up recently to find Mark Zuckerberg wanted to show the Australian Government who’s boss. In the blink of an eye, the Zuck outlawed a whole bevy of news sites from his Facebook platform due to the ongoing stoush over contested advertising revenue tied to his social media behemoth’s omnipresence. While it may have been an unmistakable flexing of his digital autocracy muscle, it felt there could be a seismic shift in consensus as to how we all interact with the Facebook platform. We asked three local online news outlets how they’d been impacted by the bans, and what measures they were taking to ensure readers’ access to their sites, with or without Zuckerberg’s algorithmic paradise.
Dale Cohen, The Northern Beaches Advocate
When Facebook unfriend, they don’t muck about. The removal of news from Australia was so clumsy it was almost embarrassing. No surprises when the Northern Beaches Advocate was caught in the net, since we are a news website. The intended target of the bomb they dropped. We never asked Facebook for any money, and nor did we plan to. We don’t have comments on our articles, Facebook provides a useful place for discussion to happen about the stories we publish. We think it’s the right place for that discussion, or we did. Now we’ll recommend people join Nextdoor.com.au for community discussion instead of Facebook. I stopped worrying about Facebook surprisingly quickly. The Northern Beaches Advocate never relied on them and operate from our own website. People found us just fine by coming directly to our website. The most surprising thing was how many politicians reached out, to see if we were suffering and to see what response was appropriate. My answer, ‘I thought we didn’t negotiate with terrorists?’
Matt Cleary, The Northern Beaches Sports Tribune
We service local sports. If it’s played on the Northern Beaches, we’ll put it in The Tribune. By March 2020, seven months from ground zero, we had a thousand readers a day. Then there was the global pandemic. And no more sport. Which made it tough to write about sport. Yet we did! We re-ran stuff. Knocked out op-ed. Lists. Podcasts and video. And we maintained our thousand daily readers. Then February 2021, Facebook happened. Our journal had leaned heavily upon the platform to virally publicise our stories to the people, but with them cutting us off at the bar, our numbers sky-dived like a stock market crash. From a thousand a day it was closer to 200. Facebook has however since recanted, and with footy season approaching, we’re up to a thousand daily readers again. We’ll double that in 2021, almost purely because of the viral super-power of the anti-social behemoth. Not the most benevolent god, our man Zuckerberg. But his website is ubiquitous. What you gonna do?
Kim Smee, The Manly Observer
Zuck and I initially had a beautiful marriage. Facebook gave me a free platform to find my local audience and I kept them engaged. Frankly, Manly Observer lifted the tone of the place. But I increasingly felt controlled by the big man. He decided who saw what stories and when, and as a fiercely independent journalist I decided to create a life separate from him at my own website. I’m mad at Zuck but he’s not solely to blame. The proposed laws were too vague and open to interpretation, presenting a major risk to the global giant. The legislation, as I saw it, was never about supporting small, independent publishers, it was about returning a larger portion of pie to Murdoch. But the issue is too nuanced to pick a side. I still love social media but have also encouraged readers to save our website to their homescreen; to not rely on Facebook to tell them when news is worth reading. Are Zuck and I still married? Let’s just say, ‘it’s complicated.’