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Facebook threatens to ban Australian publishers and users from sharing news on its platforms

In July 2019, the ACCC released its final digital platforms inquiry report calling on the government to act against Facebook.

Facebook has threatened to block news publishers and people in Australia from sharing news on its platforms if the proposed law to force the platform to share revenue with publishers in the country is passed.

Australia has taken steps to ensure media businesses remain viable. The country treasurer Josh Frydenberg instructed the competition watchdog Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to develop a mandatory code of conduct for Facebook and Google.

Originally due to be finalised by November 2020, the code was to require the digital ad giants to negotiate in good faith on how to pay news media for use of their content, to advise news media in advance of algorithm changes that would affect content rankings, to favour original source news content in search page results and to share data with media companies.

After the draft code is finalised, the government has said final text would be settled on soon after.

Why is Facebook doing this?

• In July 2019, the ACCC released its final digital platforms inquiry report calling on the government to act against the tech giants. The 600-page report recommended a code of practice for Facebook and Google that would give Australians greater transparency and control over how their personal data is collected, used and disclosed, as well as stop Google’s Chrome browser from being installed as a default browser on mobile, tablet and computer devices.

• At the time, Facebook stated the ACCC’s “unprecedented proposals” will restrict Australian users’ access to online services, accusing the ACCC of protecting the interests of a few small media companies instead of the elements of journalism. With the additional new code, experts says that, in the short term, this will create a gap in revenue and there will be a battle between the two parties involved – content producers and content distributors.

Facebook recently launched its news service, Facebook News, in India that will pay news publishers for content and original reporting, but there are no similar plans for Australia.

• According to Campbell Brown, the vice president for global news partnerships at Facebook, the platform has found that over 95% of the traffic Facebook News delivers to publishers "is incremental to the traffic they already get from News Feed”.

• Implementing the code in Australia will provide some new revenue opportunities for publishers who create high quality and trusted news content in the age of fast-paced and easily accessible content, where clickbait and fake news have become all too common.

• However, some are worried that beyond the major media groups of News Corp and Nine Entertainment and other national TV networks like Ten and Seven, hundreds of smaller and local media that support local and regional communities with local news might not benefit from the code.

• Presently, there are initiatives like adtech firm Viztrade’s Local Media Fund that is designed to encourage advertisers to support local Australian media directly.

• The aim of the fund is to direct funding into independent businesses so they can improve and create new digital services, helping local publishing to better compete against Facebook and Google.

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