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Australia health chief pulls ads from Facebook amid news blackout


By John Glenday | Reporter

February 22, 2021 | 4 min read

Australia’s health department has confirmed it will no longer advertise on Facebook, further escalating a government feud with the social media giant after it blocked news content from its platform across the country.

Australia versus Facebook

Australia health chief pull ads from Facebook amid news blackout

What’s the deal?

  • The Australian government is seeking to hit Facebook where it hurts, withdrawing all advertising on the platform as part of a tit-for-tat war of attrition.

  • Facebook’s blacklisting comes on the cusp of a US$20m public information campaign designed to convince Australians to get vaccinated to counter anti-vaccine sentiment – much of it propagated on Facebook.

  • Explaining the decision to distance from the Silicon Valley giant, health minister Greg Hunt struggled to even mention his nemesis by name, saying: “All of our funds will be used. We will continue to post on that particular channel, we just won’t be boosting.”

  • The decision highlights a deepening sense of anger at the heart of the Australian government over Facebook’s refusal to kowtow to a proposed law that would oblige digital platforms to compensate media outlets for online content.

  • Facebook has expressed implacable opposition to the idea, going so far as to block virtually all Australian news on its platform – a stance now shared by Google, which has also ostracized the nation in a show of solidarity.

WTF is going on with tech giants in Australia?

  • Unfazed by these actions, Australia is doubling down on its plans, declaring that it has no intention of amending the controversial bill.

  • Sensing it occupies the moral high ground, the government said: “Australian-generated news content by Australian-generated news organizations can and should be paid for, and done so in a fair and legitimate way.”

  • Should negotiations fail, the government has the legal authority to appoint an arbiter to determine the level at which any imposed content licensing fees should be set.

  • In a sign of Australia’s increasing digital isolation, Alphabet-owned Google has also weighed in, blocking Australian news providers from the search results of 1% of Australians as a shot across the bows.

  • Google has already blinked in the stand-off, however, after agreeing to pay for content from top Australian outlets including News Corp.

Why does it matter?

  • Speaking to The Drum last week, Stuart McLennan, senior vice-president for Asia Pacific at Rakuten Advertising, said Facebook’s block will potentially dent the income of publishers.

  • Facebook is well established as a big fish of the digital ecosystem, with many Australian websites relying on the social network to drive traffic via shared content, and in turn generate greater ad revenues.

  • On the other side of the equation, consumers face being subjected to a rising tide of disinformation as silenced sources of genuine news are replaced by more illegitimate ’fake news’.

  • Should Google make good on its threat to shutter its search engine in Australia, the effects could be even more dramatic, with the service currently accounting for 51% of all online advertising and 90% of online searches according to the Australia Competition and Consumer Commission.

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