"This is a joke, right??"  30/09/2016 by Tom Hirche

It is always a great thing when politicians join the public discussion. Yesterday, EU-Commissioner Günther Oettinger tried to defend his proposal on an ancillary copyright for press publishers on Twitter. But what he let loose was enough to drive one to despair.

Just days ago, Oettinger called on the publishers to shut down the criticism coming from their online editors. But this does not seem to be enough to him. "Better fight yourself to prevent your plan from failing", he must have told himself when he tweeted:


Mario Sixtus: "Google brings me 3/4 of my readers. How shameless that Google does not pay for that!" #publisherlogic #lsr @GOettingerEU @gaborsteingart

Günther Oettinger: Do you really believe that?? Do you click on the snippet to get to the newspaper's website? #LSR

Timm Schoof: @GOettingerEU that is how it works, what do you think?

Günther Oettinger: @tschoof This is a joke, right??

He honestly could not believe that users really click on snippets to get to the whole article. Those crazy humans! He must have completely forgotten that this is the solely purpose of news aggregators, to offer a broad overview of news articles on the events of the day or on a certain topic. But where does the Commissioner's lack of understanding come from? In most of his further tweets, he refers to an EU-wide survey on the citizens' online usage:

47 percent of the users who read snippets DO NOT click through to the article.

This is just wrong. Question 17 of the survey Oettinger refers to asks: "When you access the news via news aggregators, online social media or search engines, what do you most often do?" The participants were offered three options but could only choose one:

  • Browse and read the main news of the day, without clicking on links to access the whole articles. (47%)
  • Click on available links to read the whole articles on their original webpage. (45%)
  • You never access the news via news aggregators or online social media. (6%)

This is where Oettinger got his number from. But he should have taken some more time when reading the question. The participants were asked what they "most often do", not what they "DO" or "DO NOT". Aside from this as well as the not mentioned fact that almost as many people would click the links, the question and the answers were definitely not carefully thought out. 

Who on earth clicks on EVERY link?! On Twitter, Facebook, Google etc. you get thousands of links touting for your click. Why should you read all the articles behind them when the information is mostly the same? The option "I click on some of the available links to read the whole article about certain topics I am interested in on the original webpage." was sadly not offered. Either you read them all or none – this must have been the survey creators' thinking. Therefore, the statistical value is zero. Of much more value would be actual numbers published by Google or publishers from all over the EU to show how many users do indeed click on the links. But this would probably shake Oettinger's view of the world too much.

By drawing a very crude analogy he tried to explain how news consumptions works in the Internet:

It is like somebody offers all appetizers for free + refers to the restaurant: paying main course

Translation: Google steals all the appetizers (snippets) and offers them for free. All the guests would only eat those until they are full. Hence, they would never go to the restaurant (publishers) any more where they would have to pay for the main course (whole article).

Twisted facts and a wrong perception. Google & Co. do not "steal" the snippets. It is quite the opposite. Die publishers create them on their own and want them to be shown everywhere. They do this by their own choice. If this would not be the case they could easily stop the aggregators from showing the snippets with changes to the robots.txt. If a user finds a snippet to be interesting, he will want to read the whole article and hence click the link. That not all the links get clicked is due to the competition between publishers. Never does anybody only eat the appetizers – neither culinary nor metaphorically as Mario Sixtus emphasizes. And even if they do the discussion should be about the quality of journalism instead of demonizing a service that is offered for free, that can be stopped at any time and that helps one to make a profit.

Hopefully some of yesterday's tweets have opened Oettinger's eyes.

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