Jay CabozBy Jay Caboz|May 24, 2022|7 Minutes|In Opinion


So whats the Facebook Google hullabaloo about anyway?

It's about money, power and advertising and its been a long time coming. In the world before the internet, the lifeblood of news organizations was selling advertising. Businesses would queue up and advertise around the stories in the hope of more sales. The more people that read the news, the higher the price. 

Then came the internet. This meant millions more readers and cheaper distribution that changed the news business. It was all about mobile phones and social media platforms Google and Facebook – the online people with the biggest reach.

“When you’re searching for information on a particular story or topic, the odds are that you’ll go to Google – and to a lesser degree, Facebook (Meta). Google (Alphabet) is using and displaying snippets of these pieces of content in their search results thereby giving them a huge amount of influence over which sites people visit and the news they consume,” says former tech journalist and employee at Amazon and Google, Brendon Petersen, founder of Reframed Group.

This is how it works: a journalist writes a news story; Google takes it; links it to its search page and the eyes of millions. Google makes money by gathering traffic and then getting people to advertise to be placed in the route of that traffic. At this stage in Africa, news organizations get readers, but little else.

Google, by far, holds the majority market share (about 90%) with little competition. The revenue generated from online advertising is enormous, making up to 80% of Google’s holding company Alphabet annual revenue. This online advertising is equally enormous; in 2020 alone, Google generated $147 billion from it, that’s nearly the GDP of Kenya and Ghana combined.

Social media platforms use news to attract customers – what do the journalists get out of it?

Well, when an article appears on Google and Facebook people click through to a news website arguably delivering readers. People click through from Google Search and Google News results to news websites more than 24 billion times-a-month around the world — that’s more than 9,000 clicks per second.


These clicks make news organizations disgruntled. They claim Google exploits its hold on the market to make money that should, by right, be a fruit of journalism. This includes profit from aggregating their work in search results and via Google News, without paying for it.

“Media houses are taking issue with this because companies/platforms like Google and Facebook monetise their content without giving them a share of the profits,” says Petersen.

On the other side of the search engine, Google argues people misconstrue the facts.


“Google has essentially responded to the complaints by attempting to highlight how they have worked with media houses and publishers and taught them how to capture web based traffic and to better utilise the platform. However, in the past, when asked to pay publishers and media houses for use of their content, Google has simply shut down Google News instead of sharing any portion of the advertising revenue earned,” says Petersen.


Google claims they do not use news content in this way, nor does it drive revenue streams.


The shift of money away from newspapers is not a result of platforms like Google but is instead a function of changing dynamics made possible by the internet, the company says.

“Traffic we send to news sites helps publishers increase their readership, build trust with readers and earn money…Our advertising technology helps news organisations make money by showing ads on their websites, apps and videos,” says a Google statement.

Ultimately the decision is in the hands of the courts and parliaments. With the political backing and tighter competition legislation, news agencies could get what they want. This could bring social media giants to the negotiating table for licensing fees for links that draw traffic and advertising revenue to their platforms, reports Reuters.


In a similar vein, Facebook has been accused of breaking antitrust law by gobbling up competitors, like Instagram and WhatsApp, to build their own social media monopoly.

According to Petersen, it’s too early to tell how it’ll all play out for African news organisations if they attempt to follow Australia and France in extracting a better deal for online use of their stories. Individual lawsuits may not be the answer for news outlets.


“I’d hope that they don’t. Suing Google doesn’t address the problem which is that media houses and big tech should be working together to build sustainable platforms and revenue streams that benefit all parties involved,” says Petersen.

All this is because the way in which people consume news – and media – has changed.

“Unless you’re a huge media house or a well-known publication you’re going to struggle to drive traffic to your website or platform because media consumption has shifted to the big social media platforms that have become such an essential part of our daily lives. While suing a company like Google or Facebook brings a short-term benefit of a financial windfall if they win it’s by no means guaranteed.”

It could take quite something to galvanise political support and for news organisations to raise money to fight in their corner, but as Australia has shown if done properly, it could be worth it.