Facebook news ban in Australia: U-M experts can comment

February 18, 2021

ANN ARBOR—University of Michigan experts are available to comment on Facebook’s banning of news posts in Australia as the tech giant faced a new law that would have required it to pay media publishers for sharing the content.

Josh Pasek, an associate professor of communication & media and political science, conducts research that explores how new media and psychological processes shape political attitudes, public opinion and political behaviors.

Pasek is a faculty associate in the Center for Political Studies and core faculty for the Michigan Institute for Data Science at U-M.

“Even before Facebook added its news feed in 2008, the site had already become an important place for people to share political and social stories online,” Pasek said. “As people increasingly got their information from Facebook, the trend added enormously to the already growing challenge of finding a way to fund serious news reporting in the contemporary era. News outlets have been forced to choose either to put a paywall in front of their content or to give it away for free and to hope that advertising revenue would make up the difference. In practice these incentives have devastated quality journalism. Paywalls drive many people away and advertisement-based news encourages the generation of clickbait headlines on stories of broad popular interest over other key roles of a healthy news environment, such as paying attention to what happens in state and local government.

“Facebook’s decision to remove news in Australia reflects an escalation of this challenge and highlights the fact that the company is focused on its own bottom line instead of its social responsibility. The Australian government’s suggestion that the site should compensate news producers reflects an attempt to improve the incentives for good news making and broad news exposure despite the changes of the last 30 years.

“Facebook could certainly afford to compensate quality information producers if the company truly believed it had a public service role, its decision to pull Australian news instead is telling. This incident may forecast a future political fight in the United States, as members of both parties have become worried about the influence of technology companies on the public sphere,” Pasek said.

Contact: Josh Pasek, 484-557-4594, jpasek@umich.edu


Paul Resnick, the Michael D. Cohen Collegiate Professor of Information and director for the Center for Social Media Responsibility, has studied information elicitation processes and online reputation mechanisms. At the center he manages the Iffy Quotient, a tool that measures the percentage of the most popular news URLs on a platform that are from “iffy” sites.

“It will be interesting to see how this extreme move in Australia plays with their announced plans elsewhere in the world to reduce the prominence of news,” Resnick said.

Contact: Paul Resnick, 734-647-9458, presnick@umich.edu


Cliff Lampe, professor of information, studies the social and technical structures of large-scale technology-mediated communication, working with sites like Facebook, Wikipedia, Slashdot and Everything2. He has also been involved in the creation of multiple social media and online community projects.

His current work looks at how the design of social media platforms encourages moderation, misinformation and social development.

Contact: Cliff Lampe, 517-515-2494, cacl@umich.edu


Contact:
Laurel Thomas, ltgnagey@umich.edu
Jared Wadley, jwadley@umich.edu

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