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Can social media and journalism enter into a global partnership? – News @ Northeast

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Social media companies attract large audiences to stories covered by the news media and make a profit from the sale of ads related to those stories. Do these platforms offer the news media a constructive future? Or are Google, Facebook and other online giants damaging traditional journalism?

The problem is playing out in Australia, where there is a bill — the News Media Tariff Code– Requires social media companies to negotiate payments for the messages they use.

Facebook responded to the proposal on February 17 by banning all messages to and from Australia. Not only were news produced in Australia no longer available on the platform, but Facebook users in Australia were also prevented from seeing news from any source.

On the left Stephen Dnes, Lecturer in Law at the New College of the Humanities at Northeastern, London. Courtesy photo. Right, John Wihbey, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Innovation at Northeastern. Photo by Matthew Modoono / Northeastern University

That changed on Wednesday when Facebook agreed to negotiate with Australian news companies over the uses of their stories, while also pledging to invest at least $ 1 billion in the news industry over the next three years.

The Facebook stalemate is the latest – and possibly the most significant – stage in a platform-publisher conflict that is now in its second decade, says John Wihbey, an assistant professor of journalism and media innovation at Northeastern.

“The platforms have largely won this debate, but the pendulum could begin to shift,” says Wihbey, who has served as a Twitter advisor and is leading a project on the subject Moderation of social media content via Northeastern’s Ethics Institute, supported by Facebook. “Facebook sees this as a potential domino effect – if Australia succeeds in enforcing this law, 180 other countries will likely try to do the same. There is a lot of money at stake. “

The social media giants seem to outperform each other. Shortly after Microsoft publicly endorsed Australian law, Google signed agreements with a variety of Australian news organizations to use their content, including a three-year contract with News Corp., owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Wihbey notes that this is a conflict over control of the advertising markets.

“How do you pay? How do you rate the traffic? ”Asks Stephan today, Assistant Professor of Law at the New College of the Humanities at Northeastern in London. “You have some big press in the background – so it’s like Google versus Murdoch. They’re not really good legal principles; it’s very political. “

Wihbey wishes that stakeholders could look inside social media algorithms to measure the level of awareness generated by news content so royalty payments could be based on a universal metric. But this level of transparency is unlikely without government oversight.

Photo by Ruby Wallau / Northeastern University

Such regulation could come in the United States, where misinformation campaigns fueled by social media companies contributed to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

But the debate between platforms and publishers has many aspects, notes Wihbey. A key question is whether social media companies should be held ethically and legally accountable for the media content they host and promote through their algorithms. Another question is whether negotiated alliances between platforms and publishers could save news companies that failed in the digital age. Should social media be viewed as the ultimate news delivery system?

Apple was accused of hollowing out Hundreds of magazines and newspapers (as well as app developers) by keeping 30 percent of the first year subscriptions sold through their app store; Apple responded to the criticism in November by reducing the cut to 15 percent.

“You could argue that the news is moving,” says Dnes, who served as a consultant for affected advertising technology and content publishing companies. “It will be much more decentralized.”

The music industry has undergone a similar shift: music that has been sold to users (as vinyl albums and CDs) is now digitized and rented through subscription services from Spotify, Apple Music, and other services.

“I think there is a strong parallel,” says Dnes. “The way people consume their messages is definitely a major innovation. It is very clear that the old business model of literally buying a newspaper before the internet has largely disappeared. “

Wihbey believes the Australian negotiations represent the first step in addressing a new pressing global problem – the need for common facts and investigative oversight – that is vital to free societies.

“I’m not sure if the proposed solution is the right one in Australia,” says Wihbey. “But I think a conversation begins that really needs to be had.”

For media inquiries, please contact Jessica Hair at j.hair@northeastern.edu or 617-373-5718.

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