19 February 2021: Facebook’s decision to block Australian news outlets could result in Australia’s most vulnerable residents missing out.
The News and Media Research Centre (N&MRC) at the University of Canberra (UC) says that those in regional communities, as well as the elderly, will be most affected by Facebook’s decision taken on 18 February to block the sharing of news articles on the social platform in Australia.
The news comes after an already tough year for regional media, which was hit hard by newspaper closures and job losses during COVID-19.
“Removing news from Facebook means those with already limited access to news will have their choices further restricted,” said Professor Caroline Fisher from the N&MRC.
“More than a quarter (27 per cent) of those who experienced news closures in their local area use social media to get local news.”
Another demographic affected by the social media platform’s move includes older community members. They have grown accustomed to using social media and Facebook in particular for sourcing their news, which means they will no longer have access to news on a familiar platform that they are comfortable using and trust.
“We found that 11 per cent of the Baby Boomer generation and older indicated they tend to only use Facebook for news compared to three per cent of Generation X, Y, Z,” Dr Fisher said.
Professor Fisher says the N&MRC findings indicate that if news is removed from Facebook, users may be more exposed to misinformation.
“The majority of Australians (64 per cent) already have high levels of concern about misinformation, particularly on Facebook,” Dr Fisher said.
“It is worrying that Facebook is removing the more trusted news sites from their platform and leaving behind partisan sources, which the public are wary of.”
If the news block from Facebook becomes permanent, Dr Fisher believes news consumers will need to change how they source their news and assess their social media options.
“At the moment, only 31 per cent of online news consumers go directly to news websites,” said Dr Fisher.
“In the future, news organisations will need to encourage readers to go directly to their branded websites or apps.”