April 21, 2021

Milne News

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Australia v Facebook: Here’s What’s Going On

4 min read
Australia v Facebook: Here's What's Going On

With a flick of a switch Facebook turned Australia off.

Facebook has blocked both Australian users and media companies from sharing links to news articles and related content on its main social network, following Australia’s proposed landmark regulatory measure that would force tech giants to pay Aussie news organizations for using their content.

Facebook’s ban on sharing news has also affected dozens of government, not-for-profit, and community pages but the social media company said they are working on fixing that. So… we’ll see I guess.

Basically, Australia wants big tech giants like Google and Facebook to pay for Aussie news to be hosted on their platforms even passing a bill to make them do so. In response, Facebook has wiped content from Australian pages and blocked Aussies from sharing news. (more on that below).

The Australian government’s move has pretty much screwed everyone. Not to let Facebook off the hook either. This response was high up there on the douchebag scale.

That’s for sure.

The bill that passed the Australian House of Representatives today is believed to have enough votes to pass the Senate, The New York Times reported.

The bill also targets Google, who last month threatened to leave the country entirely. However, Google has since decided to start cutting deals with major Australian media organizations, like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., to comply. Facebook, it seems, will not be doing the same — for now at least.

A blog post from William Easton, the managing director of Facebook Australia & New Zealand said:

“The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content, It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”

The policy change from Facebook will have devastating consequences for both users and media organizations. Easton’s blog post lays out four distinct categories that will be affected and how:

  • Australian publishers: “They are restricted from sharing or posting any content on Facebook Pages. Admins will still be able to access other features from their Facebook Page, including Page insights and Creator Studio. We will continue to provide access to all other standard Facebook services, including data tools and CrowdTangle.”
  • International publishers: “They can continue to publish news content on Facebook, but links and posts can’t be viewed or shared by Australian audiences.”
  • Australian users: “They cannot view or share Australian or international news content on Facebook or content from Australian and international news Pages.”
  • International users: “They cannot view or share Australian news content on Facebook or content from Australian news Pages.”

Easton’s blog says Facebook saw this measure as a last resort. The company cites statistics, like how news content makes up less than 4 percent of what people see in the News Feed and how Facebook drove an estimated AU$407 million in referrals to Australian news publishers, as reasons why it felt the bill unfairly penalizes tech platforms.

Facebook also responded to Google reaching a deal drawing a distinction between how news publishers and readers access news content on its social network versus Google’s search engine. “Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content. On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue,” Easton argues.

“We were prepared to launch Facebook News in Australia and significantly increase our investments with local publishers, however, we were only prepared to do this with the right rules in place,” Easton goes on. “This legislation sets a precedent where the government decides who enters into these news content agreements, and ultimately, how much the party that already receives value from the free service gets paid. We will now prioritise investments to other countries, as part of our plans to invest in new licensing news programs and experiences.”

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