Facebook defends itself over criticism from South African publishers

Following the news last week that several South African publishers are dragging Google and Facebook parent Meta Platforms to the Competition Commission, Meta has responded, saying it provides “substantial value” to news publishers.

Facebook defends itself over criticism from South African publishers

TechCentral reported on 2 December that Naspers-owned Media24, along with Arena Holdings, Caxton, Independent Media and Mail & Guardian Media, had decided to make a submission to the Competition Commission as “the opening gambit in challenging Google and Meta”. The publishers want to be compensated by the US technology giants for the use of their content.

The publishers plan to lodge a complaint with the commission under an umbrella body called Publisher Support Services (PSS).

PSS chairman Hoosain Karjieker, who also serves as CEO of Mail & Guardian Media, said in a statement that platforms such as Meta and Google “have been using publishers’ content at no cost to grow their market dominance”.

“Our objective is to get them to compensate us fairly and equitably for our journalistic efforts. Hence, we are making submissions on their behaviour in the local market to the Competition Commission’s market inquiry into online platforms in South Africa,” Karjieker said.

He said the South African publishers hope to emulate similar efforts elsewhere in the world that “forced these platforms to the negotiating table, to have them agree on fair compensation to publishers for their content”.

But Meta Platforms – the company formerly known as Facebook, and which houses assets such as the Facebook social media site, photography platform Instagram, messaging app WhatsApp and virtual reality headset maker Oculus – has moved to defend itself.

‘Substantial value’

In a statement to TechCentral, Meta said: “Our platform provides substantial value to news publishers and creators who choose to share their content on our surfaces. We’ve established dedicated products, investments and initiatives that ensure that these parties can continue to reap valuable insights and results when they use Meta platforms — and we remain committed to strengthening our offerings as these industries meet the demands of an increasingly digital age.”

It said it receives “minimal commercial value from the news content on Facebook’s surfaces and the significant investments that Facebook has made in this space”.

“Facebook derives almost all its revenues from advertising that isn’t content-specific or that isn’t tied to any specific type of content.”

Moreover, it said free distribution helps drive traffic to news publishers’ websites. “In 2020, around 180 billion clicks went to news publishers registered in our NewsPage Index worldwide via the News Feed alone. We estimate the value of this traffic to publishers at around US$9-billion.”

“Monetisation tools are free to use, such as Instant Articles, which allows articles that open up faster, directly on Facebook. Publishers can sell their own ads in Instant Articles and keep 100% of the revenue, and we also have subscription offerings, turning readers on Facebook into paying subscribers, where they can keep that revenue. Publishers can also give Facebook the option to sell ads, with the publisher keeping much of the revenue.”

In addition, the company said it has made investments in journalism around the world, including in sub-Saharan Africa, where, in partnership with Reuters this year, it launched a free online training programme for journalists.

“Four years ago, we launched The Facebook Journalism Project to work with publishers to help them succeed on our platform, including publishers in South Africa, and have increased our support for the news industry during this challenging time through providing grants to South African publishers,” it said.

Facebook derives almost all its revenues from advertising that isn’t content-specific or that isn’t tied to any specific type of content

“Last year, through our Facebook Journalism project, we announced $390 000 to help South African news organisations navigate the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis. We provided funding and training to support their coronavirus work and high-quality journalism across the country.

“As part of these funds, we worked with the International Centre for Journalists, a non-profit organisation with a history of working with publishers across the world to provide $140 000 in these grants to South African publishers Additionally, we provided a $250 000 video training programme for 10 000 journalists across the continent covering Covid-19 through video reporting.”

TechCentral also asked Google for comment but the company didn’t respond by the time of publication. 

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