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Today in WebCam: The parallels between OnlyFans creators and Australia’s media industry, and how fans of influencers are demanding more on vaccines.
Aug 31, 2021
OnlyFans had a mess of a week. The online subscription platform popularised by sex workers said it was banning sexually explicit content. Less than a week later, it had backflipped spectacularly.
There’s a line in Delia Cai’s coverage of the saga in Vanity Fair that reminded me of another big Australian tech moment. Stop me when this sounds familiar:
“While it seems like platforms today are more interested in investing in the users responsible for their success via grants and creators programs aplenty, the reality is that the platform still dictates the terms,” Cai wrote. “They’re not only the point of access to your audience; they’re also the ones deciding what metrics to use, and what counts as a success — and all of that is subject to change over any given quarter.”
If you’re getting deja vu, you’re not alone: this same sentence could have been written about Facebook’s temporary news ban in Australia, which happened six months ago.
As I wrote in a pre-Crikey iteration of WebCam, media organisations were lured in by Facebook during the 2010s with rivers of web traffic — but it was a deal with the devil.
The 2021 news ban was really a turbocharged version of a longer trend of Facebook reducing the amount of news in the “news” feed (ha).
Given that Australian media — just like OnlyFans creators now — were confronted with their own algorithmic mortality, how did they respond?
We look forward to seeing you bright and early with your need-to-know talking points and tidbits for the day ahead.
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Once Facebook returned news, major Australian news organisations went back to posting about as much as they had before, according to social media analytics tool CrowdTangle.
However, the interaction rate — how often users react, comment or share, which I used as a rough proxy for how often people see something because Facebook doesn’t publish those figures — has kept on dropping, suggesting Facebook has become more hostile towards news.
So it’s clear that Australian media went running right back to Facebook even as it became increasingly hostile.
But what about what they’re doing elsewhere? A similar list of Australian publishers’ Instagram accounts shows they’ve been steadily increasing their posting, with a big bump coming just after the Facebook ban.
Staff working for major Australian publishers told me they were trying to find eyeballs from other platforms like LinkedIn, newsletters or by stepping up their SEO game. (Remarkably, only a few of the major media companies have active TikTok accounts despite it being the most popular app of 2020.) The only problem is most of these other sources of traffic also go through algorithmic middlemen.
So, what’s the solution? Diversifying risk by spreading yourself among different platforms certainly helps, but the power remains in the hands of Silicon Valley’s corporate god-emperors to turn off the traffic spigot at any time.
The answer is creators — whether they’re online sex workers or newspapers with hundreds of employees (and these two groups may be less different than they seem) — need to pursue direct connections with their audiences rather than ones filtered through algorithms.
This can be a newsletter which goes straight to someone’s inbox. (The newsletter boom coincides neatly with Facebook’s declining interest in news.) Or it can be making online spaces where a creator is in direct communication with their audience, like a Discord chat server like the one I run, or a Facebook group.
After a history of being chased off big tech platforms, many OnlyFans creators were already across multiple platforms, and this week’s news only intensified their efforts to hedge across different services. Other creators would be wise to take note.
You probably notice these solutions still rely on the largess of big tech companies. There are other emerging options that don’t rely on a centralised tech company who could pull up stumps at any time. But exploring that world is for another edition.
How #IStandWithTruckies has been co-opted into an anti-vaxxer coup fantasy
Social media has allowed people to grow movements faster than ever before. But this lack of friction has a downside: rapidly growing movements are disorganised and decentralised. What happened to the #IStandWithTruckies trend shows exactly how something can explode and lose focus. Will it end with a whimper? We’ll see. (Crikey)
St Pius X College Chatswood mourns death of student, reject anti-vaxxers claims
This is an incredibly sad story that can teach us a bigger lesson about how information travels through the internet now. A school student died from a heart attack. Anti-vaxxers claimed the death was because of a COVID-19 vaccine. Eventually the school’s principal came out and said the claim was rubbish. But by then everyone had already got what they wanted: a news cycle of anti-vaccine fears, before moving on to the next story. (The Daily Telegraph)
Damning COVIDSafe report shows government ignored contact tracer frustrations, app’s major shortfalls
Some very nifty freedom of information work to get hands on the government’s report confirming that the COVIDSafe app was essentially useless. (The Canberra Times)
Australian powers to spy on cybercrime suspects given green light
Another day, another expansion of the Australian surveillance state without any real thought for a wholesale reform of our privacy protections. (The Guardian)
Thanks to this Insta page turning Aussie politicians into hotties I’m now disturbed and horny
I had to see this so you do too. (Pedestrian)
Spywhale: inside the AFP’s two-month April Fools’ joke that didn’t make it off the ground
Police have embraced social media as a form of community outreach. Here’s how the sausage is (not quite) made. (Crikey)
The winds of change are blowing through the Australian influencer scene. For a while it’s felt like there’s been an asymmetry where those spreading anti-vaccine or other public health restrictions were dominating online culture, being rewarded with growing engagement or audience numbers as they spouted bullshit, while everyone else was just kinda going on with their normal thing.
Recently, a grassroots movement of “tea accounts“, influencers and ordinary people going viral has emerged calling out influencers for being anti-vax or not doing enough to tell people to do the right thing and get vaccinated.
This is a subtle but important change. For some time this triumvirate have been pursuing “influencer accountability” about things like undisclosed sponsored content or unhealthy product promotions. Turning this to vaccine takeup specifically is a different and arguably more political purpose to approach on Instagram, where the discourse favours unhealthy fringe views — and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Aussie Influencer Opinions is an anonymous Instagram tea account with nearly 50,000 followers. It came out of hiatus in the past week to call out what it perceived as influencers failing to actively promote vaccines and pushing vaccine misinformation.
“I just want to influence people in making an informed decision — the vaccine does minimise the spread. So I believe everyone should be sharing that message and nothing that says otherwise!” it posted.
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Associate Editor @cameronwilson
Cam Wilson is Crikey‘s associate editor.
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I follow a number of news sites on Facebook which I used to find very convenient but they now don’t seem to show up in my feed. They’re still there if I search for them. My guess is Facebook has adjusted the algorithms to effectively hide them
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