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May 15, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:19am

BBC digital director: ‘Social media platforms are often working against us’

By Andrew Kersley

BBC digital director Naja Nielsen accused social media companies of “working against” journalists as she called on publishers to build up audiences on their own platforms.

Nielsen also described social media platforms as a “pure Wild West” full of “bullying, violence, racism [and] hate crimes” and showed support for tighter regulation of the tech giants.

“I believe we [news companies] are actually not competing with each other any more,” said Nielsen, appearing on a panel on social media at this week’s Society of Editors conference in London.

“To some extent we are. But I think most of the time, we are either growing the pie of time people spend on journalism, or we’re shrinking it.”

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She added: “We don’t think you can rely on social media alone; we don’t think it works for us as a distribution platform.

“Because the algorithms [of] Tiktok will super-serve some audiences and really not serve the rest… The purpose of Facebook, Tiktok, Instagram and Twitter is not to inform everyone.

“There is a sliver of shared interests where we can work with these platforms, but they are also often working against us,” she added, citing the fact that just 4% of Facebook users actively read news and have that reinforced by the algorithm.

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“That’s why we’re not throwing a lot at social media platforms… Our thinking is that social media is not going to solve it alone, we need to develop out our own platforms.”

In the UK, technology giants are facing the prospect of greater regulation and scrutiny through several pieces of upcoming legislation.

“I think we are still in the pure Wild West,” said Nielsen when asked about regulation of tech firms.

“We’re seeing regulators getting involved. And I think that is necessary because we know not only in terms of information, but bullying, violence, racism, hate crimes – all sort of things are taking place on these platforms.”

BBC on Tiktok: ‘We haven’t figured out how to do it’

The BBC launched a Tiktok account in March after previously steering clear of the platform because of its association with “light news”. Its account now has just under 35,000 followers.

Asked about the change of heart by panel host, and former BBC journalist, Kamal Ahmed, Nielsen said: “When we do Tiktok it has to be our way and we have to become good at it.

“And I don’t think, if I’m honest, that we’ve cracked it yet. We haven’t figured out how to do it. And we can also see that in the numbers.”

Also on the panel was Vice World News video producer Nabihah Parkar, who described how the outlet’s new Tiktok channel went from 100,000 to over one million followers in the three weeks at the start of the war in Ukraine.

Asked what was behind its success, she said: “The first thing is authenticity. And it’s a word that Tiktok as a platform puts out a lot, that content has to be authentic, people have to be authentic.

“So when I think of a video that I’m about to present, I’m thinking what am I going to look like, what am I going to sound like, what footage is going in there, and it has to look natural for that platform… I’m not thinking with a news brain, I’m thinking with a creator brain.”

The outlet’s Tiktok content spans everything from explainers and light-hearted takes on the news, to correspondents on the ground in Ukraine.

Parkar added: “As Vice World News is a new account, I’m still experimenting with formats… If you have a video that flopped, you try another ten videos, and some of them will really hit it off. And you’re not going to know until that video is posted if it works.”

One video she cited was an explainer of why Russia was opposed to NATO that she filmed in her kitchen using mugs as props, receiving over 15m views.

She went on: “People aren’t following pages anymore, they’re following personalities. There are studies that prove that. People will more likely have a reporter from a news organization pop up on their feed than the organisation itself.”

Picture: Shutterstock

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