When does Facebook News start

Facebook NewsDance the Axel Springer

Facebook has tons of buttons and tabs in its desktop version. The bar at the top leads to the news feed, the page overview, your own video feed, the classifieds feature Marketplace and the groups. The bar on the left also offers a variety of features, from events and "reminders" to information about Covid-19. In short: Facebook is drowning in buttons that lead to one of its dozen of functions.

A new feature is being added today. It should be more than just another colorful button for Facebook's functions buffet. It is about the social discourse, as it is called in a press release from the group. Facebook News starts in Germany and now offers its own news feed for journalistic content. The day before, the group announced who would be its most important partner for the new function: Axel Springer Verlag.

At the heart of Facebook News is a feed whose content, which is unusual for Facebook, is preselected by people. The news is curated by editors at Upday, an Axel Springer subsidiary that so far has mainly aggregated news for Samsung smartphones. An algorithm is intended to ensure that users only see content from this content that is also of interest to them.

Even if some new features on Facebook quickly flopped and disappeared again, Facebook News is likely to have a great future. This is because it is not made for Facebook users as a priority. The main addressees of the new function are the press publishers. Facebook pays around 30 media houses in Germany to allow it to display their content.

A prominent beneficiary is the Axel-Springer-Verlag, whose flagships “Welt” and “Bild” are important not only because of their wide reach. Because Springer and his CEO Mathias Döpfner, who set the tone in publishing associations, have been ranting loudly for years on Google and on Facebook, with which the group has now made a deal. The harshly criticized “surveillance capitalists” of yesterday are today's business friends.

Facebook is following Google's example

The fact that Facebook has a news tab may make some suspicious, because there has been news in abundance on the social network for a long time, as anyone who has an account there and scrolls through the news feed knows. Links to articles can already be shared there, and the official pages of publishers are busy posting their content - and free of charge. In contrast to the normal feed, Facebook News is now supposed to display news in a concentrated, concentrated form - and the publishers get money for it.

Facebook is doing a U-turn. Just three years ago, company boss Mark Zuckerberg announced that the social network wanted to focus more on contacts with friends and family instead of news. This should counter the criticism that Facebook has favored the rise of populist right-wingers like Donald Trump through algorithmic reinforcement of false news and clickbait headlines. Back then, Facebook killed the "Trending Topics" feature that displayed popular news content.

Now Facebook is creating its own silo again for journalistic content, the range of which it deliberately reduced at the time. The press publishers who offer content there receive their money regardless of whether this feature is actually popular with users. Facebook shares the strategy with Google, which launched a similar program last year with News Showcase. Before that, the two companies tried for years to convince the publishing industry with gifts of money, as my colleague Ingo Dachwitz and I documented in our study and article series “Media Patron Google”.

In purely business terms, it may not be worthwhile for corporations like Google or Facebook to pay publishers billions for content that they could link in this way. But through the deals with selected media in some countries, the corporations can avoid legal demands for license payments, as they create the Australian media law and the EU ancillary copyright law. Instead of triggering compulsory payments, Google and Facebook have taken the initiative and turned the lemon ancillary copyright into lemonade by securing curated content.

Springer can possibly collect twice

Although the Axel Springer Verlag has obtained a contractual guarantee from Facebook, the use of its content in Facebook News does not affect its claims under ancillary copyright law. This means that Springer can possibly collect double payments on Facebook - the group will exercise its rights from ancillary copyright through a collecting society regardless of payments from Facebook News, said a spokesman for ZDF.

It is uncertain whether other press publishers were able to negotiate similar contractual terms as Springer. How much individual media companies receive and what the terms of the deals look like, Facebook and the publishers are silent. The range is potentially very wide: Leaked documents from the deal between French publishers and Google in France show that the sums fluctuate between 1.3 million euros for the daily Le Monde and almost 14,000 euros for a small regional newspaper.

It also remains open what it means for Facebook News that the news is selected by a subsidiary of Axel Springer Verlag. When asked whether Upday could prefer the content from Springer, the publishing house replied to netzpolitik.org: “Upday would certainly not be so popular and respected as a partner by the numerous publishers in Europe if they had the feeling that Upday would be Axel Springer- Treat content preferentially. "

One thing is now certain: Springer holds back with criticism of the "data omnipotence" of Silicon Valley when it comes to his own interests. Admittedly, this criticism was always theatrical, as can be seen from what Springer lobbyists say behind closed doors in Brussels.

The German publishers, who can now count on income from Facebook News and Google News Showcase, can in any case consider themselves lucky: Because neither Google and Facebook have promised to consider every journalistic medium or to exercise fairness. Those who get money now have an advantage over their competitors. The news programs of the two companies distort competition through the money and reach they promise the participating media. We will see in the next few years what this means for media pluralism.

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About the author

Alexander Fanta

As the Brussels correspondent of netzpolitik.org, Alexander reports on the digital policy of the European Union. He writes about new laws and does investigative research on large technology companies and their lobbying. He is co-author of the study "Medienmäzen Google" on the group's journalism funding. In 2017 Alexander was a fellow at the Reuters Institute for Journalism Research at Oxford University, where he researched automation in journalism. Before that he was a foreign policy journalist for the Austrian news agency APA. E-mail:[email protected] (PGP). Twitter:@FantaAlexx. WhatsApp / Threema: +32483248596.
Published 05/18/2021 at 4:00 PM