Facebook has joined Google in blocking news articles from being shared on its news feed in Australia as a form of protest against the country’s proposed mandatory code of conduct for tech platforms.
Alphabet-owned Google has already blocked Australian news sites from its search results for about 1% of local users, officially announcing this exercise as a test run, with the intention to provide a preview of the effect a change like this could deliver, should the code become law in its current form.
Google has also threatened to remove its search engine from Australia which could see big ramifications. Google currently accounts for 51% of all online advertising in Australia while the Australia Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) notes that over 90% of online searches currently occur through Google.
Originally due to be finalized by November 2020, the code, introduced by competition watchdog Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), 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 favor original source news content in search page results and to share data with media companies.
Facebook’s new policy means people in Australia "cannot view or share Australian or international news content on Facebook or content from Australian and international news pages".
It also means that people elsewhere in the world cannot view or share Australian news content on Facebook.
Australians can't see any news stories on Facebook this morning after the company banned local users from posting article links. Both local and international outlets are blocked. E.g. This is what the BBC looks like in Australia pic.twitter.com/SJ4XBM8RnC
— Frances Mao (@francesmao) February 17, 2021
Speaking to The Drum, Stuart McLennan, the senior vice president for Asia Pacific at Rakuten Advertising said from a publisher’s perspective, this change will potentially cause a dent in their income.
While some publishers have the ability to diversify revenue streams, in reality, McLennan pointed out many sites in Australia still rely on Facebook and its platforms to share content and drive site traffic, and generate more ad revenue.
For consumers, he said this will limit their access to certified news content from genuine, unbiased sources which could lead to a wider societal impact. Pages that are not classified as news sites will have the opportunity to spread more disinformation, or “fake news”, as more legitimate sources are blocked.
"As for Facebook, its loyal user base will still use the platform for its primary purpose – to connect with family and friends. The company will continue to see growth in ad revenue despite their users’ lack of ability to share news content. Facebook’s decision today will undoubtedly affect many in the Australian digital industry, and the world will watch as this could continue to spark changes across the globe," he added.
Why does this matter?
Facebook and Google are currently close to deals with major Australian media to pay for news. This is similar to what the French publishers have achieved, after recently working out an agreement in which news publishers are rightfully compensated for their online content by tech giants.
Google announced it is in the final stages of talks with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp that would see news from the media giant included in the Google News Showcase. The deal covers content from the News Corp’s publications like Wall Street Journal, Barron's, MarketWatch and the New York Post, Britain’s The Times and The Sunday Times, and The Sun as well as Australian media outlets like The Australian.
"The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content," said William Easton, Facebook's manager for Australia and New Zealand. "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."
"Our goal was to find a resolution that strengthened collaboration with publishers, but the legislation fails to recognize the fundamental relationship between us & news organizations," Facebook's news partnerships head Campbell Brown said in a tweet.