Around two months ago, Emergency Services News lost its ability to monetise our content on our Facebook page (9th July).
This included being able to add adverts into our videos, being able to use Facebook’s Collaboration Manager tool and having access to Facebook’s ‘Instant Article’ (IA) feature that allows publishers to use a quick-formatting distribution of articles on the social media platform.
We also lost access to our ‘become a supporter’ feature meaning that we cannot invite new people to support our page and we cannot engage with our existing supporters.
Anyone who publishes on Facebook will know, that you never get told what it is that you are alleged to have done that has meant that your ability to monetise your content has been taken from under your feet. You get given a rough idea, but you are never told specifically what it is that you are alleged to have done. So you cannot even ‘learn’ from your honest mistakes.
Our small team looked into what could have caused ESN to lose around 55% of our ad income, at a time when small businesses such as ours are struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.
Apparently, we had lost – with any warning whatsoever – all of our monetisation features for ‘unoriginal video aggregation’.
As we were picking up thousands of new followers and hundreds of new group members each week, we thought that we would share some hand-picked videos, which we originally published six months ago, with our new followers and group members.
I have read personally the many, many pages of Facebook’s community standards and was sure that this practice would not fall foul of their rules – because we were sharing the majority of this content with our new followers and with groups which relate to our news content.
We also shared these videos with our various groups which now have over 75k members.
It would appear that by doing this, then we had inadvertently and unintentionally fallen foul of one of Facebook’s many rules which are often subjective in their interpretation and implementation.
We ‘appealed’ the decision which is basically clicking on a button called ‘appeal’ without knowing which rules we had broken (because we were not told).
When you appeal these sort of decisions, you are not actually allowed to add any rationale to your appeal and you never really know which rules you are alleged to have broken because you are not told. So the ‘appeal’ is not even an ‘appeal’ in the true sense of the word.
The ‘appeal’ was declined within an hour or so of it being submitted. There was no reason—just a ‘no’.
We have seen many other professional publishers on Facebook sharing videos which they have already published, so we were confused as to why we had our page demonetised for doing something that is a common practice amongst publishers on Facebook.
With 750k monthly readers, we are not Facebook’s largest publishing partner, but we are certainly not its smallest.
It felt as though our page, Emergency Services News, is/was being targetted by Facebook, merely because we are not ‘anti-police’.
Of course, we also cover stories about the life-saving work of the NHS, the emergency ambulance service, the fire and rescue service and the various search and rescue services, including the RNLI and independent Lifeboats which are dotted around the country..
As we have served in the emergency services ourselves, then we feel that we must give the public an insight into the real world of the emergency services rather than just an opinion of the emergency services and the life-saving work they do.
But it is the feeling amongst our team, based on our experiences with Facebook, that any news page that is not ‘anti-police’ is unfairly targetted by facebook for reasons which are not entirely clear.
Since we have been demonetised, we have lost thousands of pounds and have seen our new follower numbers go from the thousands of new followers each week to the hundreds.
And then on Friday, the person here at ESN who is responsible for sharing content across our pages and groups lost his ability to be able to post on our Facebook pages.
We do have another member of our team who can post our articles since our primary social media ‘guru’ lost his ability to post content on our pages, but this just means that it takes much longer to share our articles and videos with our followers.
The reason for our team member losing his ability to post on our pages?
On Friday we posted a ‘welcome message’ to the new members of one of our Groups ‘Rate My Refs‘. ‘Refs’ is the slang word used by the emergency services when they talk about going for a break – it is short for ‘refreshments’.
In the welcome message that we posted to our 180-or-so new group members, we included a post that had a link to our online shop that sells novelty mugs.
Many publishers have online shops as a way of trying to generate additional income as income from ad revenue can fluctuate greatly.
Since posting this welcome message, it was labelled by Facebook as being ‘SPAM’ (even though it is a tool that Facebook provides). And now the person who posted the welcome message cannot share any content on our pages (but still can on our groups).
Since losing access to Instant Articles, the reach of our articles on Facebook has gone down.
The reason for this is that Facebook appears to prioritise its own Native Instant Article format rather than external links which are hosted on a publisher’s own website. So when you lose Instant Articles, you are hit with a double whammy, so to speak.
So not only have we been ‘hit’ by lost ad income from our instant articles, but we have now seen our articles become ‘de-ranked’ in peoples news feeds because they take our reader directly to our site as opposed to keeping them on Facebook. But this was not our choice or indeed our preference.
Our choice here at ESN has always been to use Instant Articles because we are aware that IA distribution takes preference on Facebook concerning its distribution of content in peoples news feeds.
The aim of Emergency Services News has always been to shares news and stories from the front line of the emergency services with the added benefit of being able to ‘talk’ about what is going on from our own experiences – this experience is the context that we add in our videos and in our articles.
Each member of our in-house team has previously served in the emergency services.
We do not concentrate our news output on the ‘anti-police’ stories, because many sections of the mainstream media already do that. Why would we spout an ‘anti-police’ narrative when many sections of the mainstream media are already doing this?
Instead, we want to share the ‘real life’ scenarios and stories from the front line, without the negative bias that is often directed at our emergency services.
But, it would appear from what we have experienced over the last three months, that this has meant that Facebook has targeted us, intending to undermine our business model.
At a time when small businesses like ours are trying to stay afloat, and at a time when Mr Zuckerberg has told his billions of users that he especially supports small business, then it would appear that such support is directed only at certain small companies which ‘tow the line’ when it comes to reporting on the activities of the emergency services.
We have always been a strong supporter of Facebook. Hence, it is bitterly disappointing that we seem to have been targetted by Facebook with a view to undermining our small publishing business.
We will continue to act as a voice for the remarkable men and women who serve in the emergency services and health service and who dedicate their lives to helping others.
Facebook has been contacted for comment, as has our Local MP.
How can you help us?
We would like to thank our readers for their continued support during this difficult time.
Can you help Emergency Services News?
We when set our website up in November 2018, we had a straightforward mission: to bring our readers factual stories, which are free from negative bias but which are enriched with qualified experience.
Each member of our in-house team of writers has served in either the armed forces, emergency services or NHS.
This means that we can bring our readers not only the stories which matter but also stories without the negative spin.
But we cannot do this without your help. As ad revenue – the staple income of most publishers – continues to fluctuate, then we need the help of our supporters and readers more than ever.
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We would like to thank you in advance for your continued support.