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(Image: Unsplash/Con Karampelas)

“So where did you hear that?”

“Oh the guy down at the pub said it.”

“Right, so not real news then.”

Remember this discussion? Assuming the Facebook news decision stands, fast forward three years and there is a chance this once common refrain will be revived with two variations.

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In the first variation the “guy down at the pub” will be replaced by Facebook. Professionally produced credible news is being pushed off the platform yet political and social rants will remain.

Ultimately the platform’s association with news will lessen and people seeking any sort of credibility in their information diet will learn to go direct to the horse’s mouth.

There are possible upsides for publishers here. The first, clearly, relates to trust. Research shows audiences struggle to remember the source of a news item when they access this item through social media.

This has real effects for brand building, which goes hand in hand with loyalty and trust. As pointed out by the University of Canberra’s Digital News Report 2020 people who use social media as their main news source have the lowest trust in news — 43% of these news consumers distrust news.

This compares to TV news watchers, who are the most trusting, with only 26% stating they distrust news. The trick will be to get users to change their behaviour and access news sites directly but the experience from Spain seems to suggest this change in behaviour can occur when platforms pull out and consumers don’t have that one-stop-shop choice.

The second variation to the above discussion could be even more profound, even if there is less chance of it occurring.

Imagine if people actually start talking about news face to face again? Revolutionary, I know! In that case, the end line of the discussion could change to “Right, so was it an interesting chat?”

Social media discussions have long been accused of incivility and polarisation leading to a fracturing of the public sphere.

Of course the change by Facebook isn’t the be-all and end-all, there are plenty of other ways to share news online and Facebook claims news makes up only 4% of its ecosystem but still, the consciousness of the sharing function being able to be taken away could lead to behaviour change — making people more aware that they should be in control of their news discussions. It could be a fascinating ripple effect to watch, maybe.

Of course, we can’t speculate about the social dimensions of this change without bringing in worst-case scenarios. One of the great things about social media is that it is a gateway to reaching the notoriously hard-to-reach under-35 news audience.

So remove Facebook from the picture and the potential is there for generations coming through who have never been socialised into news. Generations who care less and less about being informed because they just never got in the habit.

The great social commentary alive on video app TikTok belies this dystopian vision of civic apathy. But this is a social experiment. Time will tell.

Dr Chrisanthi Giotis is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Media Transition, University of Technology Sydney