Social media giant Facebook has launched a bungled pre-emptive strike to the Australian Federal Government’s proposed new Media Bargaining law by restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.
For Australian publishers, the new restrictions mean they are restricted from sharing or posting any content on Facebook Pages, although Admins will still be able to access other features from their Facebook Page, including Page insights and Creator Studio. Facebook says it will continue to provide access to all other standard Facebook services, including data tools and CrowdTangle
International publishers will be able to continue to publish news content on Facebook, but links and posts cannot be viewed or shared by Australian audiences.
Australian audiences, meanwhile, will not be able to view or share Australian or international news content on Facebook, or content from Australian and international news Pages. Those outside Australia will not be able to view or share Australian news content on Facebook, or content from Australian news Pages
However, the restriction of Australian news sites has not got off to a good start with a number of non-news accounts becoming caught up in the Facebook blockade, including Queensland Health, South Australia Health, ACT Health, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, retailer (and presumed advertiser) Harvey Norman, Motorola, the AFL Women’s League, the Women’s Legal Service of Tasmania, World Wildlife Fund Australia, Women in Media, the Sacred Heart Mission charity, the Burnet Institute medical research centre, Unicef Australia, and, ironically, Facebook itself (see picture).
The proposed News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, which was scheduled to be considered by the Australian Parliament this week, is designed to “address the bargaining power imbalance identified by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) between digital platforms and news media businesses in order to support a diverse and sustainable Australian news media sector, including Australia’s public broadcasters.
“The Code creates a framework for the parties to reach commercial arrangements, so that news media business are fairly remunerated for the content they generate and which digital platforms benefit from.”
According to William Easton, Managing Director, Facebook Australia & New Zealand, “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.
“As we have made clear to the Australian government for many months, the value exchange between Facebook and publishers runs in favour of the publishers – which is the reverse of what the legislation would require the arbitrator to assume. Last year Facebook generated approximately 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers worth an estimated AUD$407 million.
“For Facebook, the business gain from news is minimal. News makes up less than 4% of the content people see in their News Feed. Journalism is important to a democratic society, which is why we build dedicated, free tools to support news organisations around the world in innovating their content for online audiences.”
While the “business gain from news” may be minimal, it is likely the social media platform would use metrics from traffic on posted news stories to refine the advertising served in users’ feeds.
For its part, Google has been signing agreements with various Australian news organisations to provide news content to its Google Showcase product which launched in Australia in early February. These include Seven West Media, Junkee Media, NewsCorp, Australian Community Media, Schwartz Media, and The Conversation Media Group.
According to Mel Silva, Managing Director for Google Australia and New Zealand, “Showcase has been very well received since its launch in Australia a little over a week ago with our publisher partners receiving one million views of their content in just eight days demonstrating that Showcase offers a constructive path forward for publishers, readers, and Google.”
However, Facebook ANZ CEO William Easton contends that, “… our platforms have fundamentally different relationships with news. 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.
“Over the last three years we’ve worked with the Australian Government to find a solution that recognises the realities of how our services work. We’ve long worked toward rules that would encourage innovation and collaboration between digital platforms and news organisations. Unfortunately this legislation does not do that. Instead it seeks to penalise Facebook for content it didn’t take or ask for.
“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. 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.
“We hope that in the future the Australian government will recognise the value we already provide and work with us to strengthen, rather than limit, our partnerships with publishers.”