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NERA Debug News Publishers Claim that Facebook is Benefiting Unfairly from News Links

Yusuf Balogun
Yusuf Balogun
Yusuf is a law graduate and freelance journalist with a keen interest in tech reporting.

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In recent years, there has been much discussion about the relationship between traditional news publishers and social media platforms, with publishers frequently claiming that Meta unfairly benefits from links to news pieces being shared on Facebook.

This has had an impact on legislators in several nations, where legislation mandating internet-based businesses to pay news publishers has been proposed. However, a recent study by NERA economic consulting demonstrates that these claims are false.

NERA’s Global Report Findings

A new global report by NERA Economic Consulting, commissioned by Meta, found that publishers make a business decision and choose to share links to their content because they benefit from traffic from social media platforms. Facebook does not actively scrape links or news content from the internet. 

At the same time, NERA’s global report found that news content from traditional publishers is of low value to Meta and declining, and posts with links to news articles are less than 3% of what people see in their Facebook feeds.

The findings of NERA are consistent with those of different recent research by the British think tank the IEA, which asserted that more generally, just because digital platforms have benefited from the digital revolution does not make them accountable for newspapers’ difficulties.

Is Meta Truly Benefiting?

The report, written by Dr. Jeffrey Eisenach of NERA, an Adjunct Professor at the George Mason University Law School who previously held senior policy positions at the US Federal Trade Commission and the White House Office of Management and Budget, makes it abundantly clear that there is no economic support for news publishers’ claims that Facebook is a platform they must have or that it has an unfair bargaining position.

In his findings, he noted that the current market bargain is fair. According to him, news content from traditional publishers is of low value to Meta and declining, while publishers benefit from traffic from social media apps.

On the other hand, the publishers reap considerable economic benefits from their use of Facebook, constituting approximately 1% to 1.5% of their revenues. While, 90% of organic views on article links from news publishers are on links posted by the publishers themselves, not by Facebook users.

Jeffrey further pointed out that habits are changing. Therefore, the proportion of adults using Facebook for news fell by about a third between 2016-2022 from 45% to 30%. And only 13% of US adults prefer to use social media for news, with 33% preferring television, 23% news websites or apps, 7% radio, and 5% print.

However, he finally added that news is not a substantial part of Facebook globally. Here, he maintains that less than 3% of what people see in their Facebook Feeds posts with links to news articles. While more than 92% of organic Facebook Feed items in the US and other part parts of the world contained no links to any external content in the third quarter of 2022.

Facebook Are Not Benefiting Unfairly

Nevertheless, as the study shows, to claim that news publishers are unfairly losing out because of platforms like Facebook is a fundamental misinterpretation of the value exchange between the two. Facebook does not aggressively trawl the internet for links or news articles to add to users’ feeds.

At the same time, the report added that most of the time, it’s the publishers that decide to post links to their articles on social media or make them available for others to share because they find the practice to be beneficial.

Therefore, the report affirmed that’s why most publishers have buttons on their pages encouraging readers to share them. And if you click a link that’s shared on Facebook, you are directed to the publisher’s website, where they keep 100% of any revenue generated from that visit.

Accordingly, the relationship between traditional publishers and Facebook represents a fair market bargain. The evidence shows that news publishers, in their arguments, obtain considerable value from links to news content they have voluntarily posted on Facebook. Hence, claims from news publishers that Facebook benefits unfairly at their expense are wrong.

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