Stuff boycotting Facebook

Facebook taking advertising has been a big problem for media companies that were already struggling to adapt to an online orientated world. Many news outlets decided to feed Facebook with content to try to keep some crumbs for themselves.

But the newly owned Stuff is cutting off their connections with Facebook.

Stuff: Stuff stops all activity on Facebook in trial ‘inspired by principle’

New Zealand publisher Stuff is hitting pause on all Facebook activity as it reassesses its relationship with the under fire social media giant.

An internal email sent to Stuff editorial managers on Monday said it was trialling ceasing all activity on Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram effective immediately.

The trial would apply across all titles owned by Stuff. Nearly 953,000 people follow the Stuff news Facebook page and 134,000 follow its Instagram account. It has dozens of other Facebook pages for its various titles and brands.

Stuff is New Zealand’s largest media company and was recently bought for $1 by its chief executive Sinead Boucher from its previous owner, Australian media company Nine.

The email said Stuff stopped advertising on Facebook soon after the 2019 mosque attacks in Christchurch, as the company did not want to contribute financially to a platform that profited from publishing hate speech and violence.

The latest experiment was in the context of an international boycott Facebook movement, and applied until further notice, the email said.

“It is an experiment though, and we’ll monitor the results closely,” it said.

Large international brands such as Coca-Cola, Unilever, Verizon and Starbucks are boycotting spending their advertising dollar with Facebook over accusations the tech company hasn’t done enough to curb hate-speech and disinformation.

It’s a risky experiment for a company trying to find a way to survive.

They will lose some readership of their articles, but they won’t get much revenue from being on Facebook.

(I rarely see or link to news on Facebook but may not be a typical news reader).

The Spinoff:  Stuff has taken the sword to Facebook. Is it the start of a media revolution?

While Stuff’s “experiment” in pulling news from Facebook may seem like just another sign-up to the global advertising boycott that began as a reaction to hate speech on the platform, it’s in keeping with an independent trend for NZ’s biggest news site.

It’s also symbolically important, with a news company putting its money where its mouth has been and foregoing significant traffic. Since 2018, Facebook has increasingly been the whipping boy of columnists all over the world, but publishers have continued to post their content on the platform.

Unfortunately we may never find out whether I am right in that guess, because Stuff have pulled out of the monthly measurement tool that allowed NZ news sites to be ranked by audience size.

Since at least 2016 – that’s as far as my records go back – Stuff have dominated the Nielsen news rankings. Now they are no longer part of the system, they don’t have to worry about nemesis NZ Herald claiming victory. The usual margin between these arch-rivals has been roughly 10%.

In its unilateral action, Stuff has partially made real a threat doing the rounds in media: a news boycott of Facebook and Google. Facebook has responded – in the face of impending regulation in Australia – stating it doesn’t need news and that its business wouldn’t skip a beat without it. While I think it may have underestimated the social capital of accurate news, I believe it about the business. Most people in news think Facebook is either bluffing or deluded.

I don’t think we’ll ever find out. The Stuff experiment will probably end when the struggle for audience becomes even more acute than it is now.

Maybe, maybe not.

RNZ Mediawatch: Stuff’s fighting talk on Facebook

Not long before striking a $1 deal to buy the company last month, Stuff chief executive Sinead Boucher made it clear she was no fan of Facebook.

“They have built businesses off the quality content others have created,” she told Mediawatch in April.

“News companies like us haven’t seen any of the benefits.

“We stand opposite to them in a lot of ways and it is good for us to keep them at arm’s length – because the work we produce, the code of ethics we adhere to and the fact that we produce journalism that is fair and balanced is at odds to Facebook and the fact it permitted massacres to be live-streamed, and personal data to be misused to manipulate elections.”

She also told Mediawatch she objected to Facebook propagating conspiracy theories that Covid-19 was caused by 5G technology.

“Those things are damaging and we need to stand in opposition to that.”

Now she has.

Dealing with toxic comments online

Stuff also decided it was time to civilise the often unpleasant space “below the line”.

It stopped publishing online comments on news stories about the topics that got readers the most wound-up – including the mosque shootings, 1080, climate change, suicide and even transport.

Many other local media outlets had already abandoned comments for similar reasons (including RNZ, which dropped them just a year after introducing them, after it didn’t act quickly enough when unpleasant and extreme comments appeared on Checkpoint’s Facebook page).

“In an era when many media outlets simply outsource comments to the unmoderated wilds of Facebook, we continue to see value in a curated conversation,” Stuff’s chief editor, Patrick Crewdson, said at the time.

But online engagement with the audience is vital to any media company operating in the online era, so why would Stuff cut off such a critical conduit?

“We get 7000 comments a day from a daily audience of 1.2 million unique browsers. It’s actually a drop in the bucket,” Crewdson previously told Mediawatch.

On Monday, Crewdson told RNZ readers could still share Stuff stories from their own Facebook feeds, but the plethora of accounts for Stuff’s various sections’ and mastheads became officially “dormant” from Monday morning.

“Seven hundred and 50 large companies around the world are boycotting Facebook in terms of ads because is is not doing enough on fake news and hate speech,” Crewdson said.

Less online traffic back to Stuff’s site means less income per advert placed on the site, so pulling content altogether will come at a cost, though Crewdson is not sure what that will be.

“We’re going to measure the impact of this but we have a large loyal audience that comes directly to us each day. Some which come via Facebook will come directly,” he said.

Wee will see if Stuff holds out, or goes back to feeding the DFacebook monster.