If you haven’t noticed, I write for ATL, a website supported by some really great advertising. Go ahead, buy those fabulous products and services you see advertised on your screen.
As a person who writes for a website supported by advertising, I can’t help but cheer Australia’s new law which would force social media platforms to pay news organizations in Australia when links to their stories are shared on said platforms. News organizations deserve to be paid for their content. When a big chunk of advertising revenue gets siphoned off by Facebook or some other social media platform instead of going to the entity responsible for the reporting, well, we get the gutted media atmosphere we’ve been living in for the past decade, where local and independent media outlets are disappearing faster than the polar ice caps.
In response to this new law, Facebook simply blocked Australians from accessing news stories through Facebook, and also blocked users elsewhere from posting or seeing stories from Australian news outlets. A lot of people in Australia (and worldwide) were upset.
Now it looks like Facebook and Australia have reached a deal. Australian news pages will be restored. Given Australia’s apparent success against Facebook, a number of other countries are looking into pursuing similar legislation of their own.
That’s all well and good. The Australian has some fine reporting, and I’d hate for the people of the world who only get their news from Facebook to be deprived of finding its content. Still, I can’t help but wonder how much longer Facebook is going to be heavily relied upon as a news source anyway.
According to the latest data from the Pew Research Center, about a third of Americans regularly get their news from Facebook. Even among those who do look to Facebook for news, most — about six in 10 — expect news gathered on social media platforms to be “largely inaccurate.”
My own Facebook friends post links to things that could be considered news, but always to stab an exclamation point on the end of some political point. I rarely click on them, preferring to just go to Reuters, NPR, or good ol’ ATL directly to find out about stuff. Actually, I almost never go on Facebook anymore at all, because I can scroll through my news feed for 10 minutes without finding a single thing I actually care to see.
Facebook is boring. When I first got a Facebook account, you still had to have a .edu email address to get an account, and it was kind of fun. At the time, Facebook basically had two purposes: posting pictures of parties or some other fun thing you were doing so as to later relive the experience with your friends, and learning more about people you were romantically interested in without having to work up the courage to talk to them in real life. And now Facebook is just … well, I don’t know what it is, but it hasn’t been fun in a long time.
I guess maybe I’ve changed just as much as Facebook has. You get to a point in life where you don’t feel like arguing online with dumb former friends and blowhard distant relatives to try to convince them that racism is bad, and where you also don’t give a shit about other people’s kid/pet/vacation photos or if other people see your kid/pet/vacation photos. But it took me something like 15 years to get from “Facebook is kind of fun” to “this platform sucks.”
I can see an alternate history in which Facebook didn’t smother independent journalism in its crib, and the platform was being used to find and share news of interest that a person otherwise would not have found within the jungle of the internet. But Facebook (and other tech companies) did gut journalism, and even now Facebook pretty strongly resists laws like Australia’s aimed at keeping good news sources on life support. Facebook isn’t a good news source itself, which even the people who get their news there seem to recognize, and Facebook isn’t that good at anything else anymore either, except maybe causing genocides. While Facebook is still near the top of the social media platform pile, it might not be there forever. As long as Facebook still has new users to attract, especially abroad, it will remain a powerful force. But at some point, unless there are big changes, later adopters than me will all reach the same stage with Facebook: boredom.
Jonathan Wolf is a civil litigator and author of Your Debt-Free JD (affiliate link). He has taught legal writing, written for a wide variety of publications, and made it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn’t want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at [email protected].