Facebook Planning to Curb News Sharing on its Platforms in Australia

Facebook is planning to stop the sharing of local and international news stories on its platforms if legislation needing tech platforms to pay publishers for the used content becomes law, the company expressed in a blog post on Monday.

The Proposed Law

“Australia is drafting a new regulation that misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organizations the government is trying to protect,” Will Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand stated in the blog post, urging that the commission governing the process “ignored important facts,” consisting of the relationship between social media and news media.

“Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram.” Easton continued. “This is not our first choice — it is our last. But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector.”

The News Media Bargaining Code law of Australia is still in draft form. It stemmed from a 2019 inquiry that discovered tech giants such as Facebook and Google take a very large chunk of online advertising revenue from media organizations in Australia. The Treasurer of Australia directed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to make a voluntary code of conduct which would make the platforms to pay media companies. However, the ACCC told the government it looked “unlikely” that a voluntary agreement could be reached.

Is it an Unfair Competitive Edge?

According to the proposed legislation, Google and Facebook would have to offer publishers with advance notice of transformations to their algorithms, with penalties for failing to abide by the rule. Both companies have strongly opposed this provision. Facebook is saying it would be partial and would give news organizations in Australia an unfair competitive edge.

Easton stated in his post that news demonstrates a piece of what Facebook users see in their news feeds, and is “not a significant source of revenue” for the company. In addition to investing “millions of dollars” in Australian news businesses, he said, “over the first five months of 2020 we sent 2.3 billion clicks from Facebook’s News Feedback to Australian news websites at no charge — additional traffic worth an estimated AUD 200 million to Australian publishers.”

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Google, earlier this month, published an open letter regarding the proposed law, and also included a pop-up to its homepage in Australia warns “the way Aussies use Google is at risk” and that the regulation could affect their search experience negatively. Google argued that the law “is set up to give big media companies special treatment and to encourage them to make enormous and unreasonable demands that would put our free services at risk.”

The ACCC answered back by saying Google’s letter contains “misinformation,” and added that “a healthy news media sector is essential to a well-functioning democracy.”

Media companies in Australia have extensively supported the proposed law. Australia’s newspapers and media outlets, such as their counterparts in other countries, have experienced a major blow due to the economic downturn because of the coronavirus pandemic. Big Australian media companies have urged staff to take pay cuts in recent months, and many newspapers were forced to stop production because of a sharp fall in advertising revenue.