The internet has offered plentiful cheap and mobile entertainment for everyone around the world, and one of the consequences is that people on average choose to spend a lot less on newspaper journalism.
This reality is clearly causing a lot of pain to
the newspaper industry, but also to national governments around the world who would prefer their peoples to get their news information from state approved sources.
But governments don't really want to pay for the 'main stream media' themselves,
and so are tempted to look to social media giants to foot the bill. And indeed the Australian government is seeking to do exactly that. However the economics doesn't really support the notion that social media should pay for the news media. From a purely
business standpoint, there is no case for Facebook needing to pay for links, if anything Facebook could probably charge for the service if they wanted to.
So Facebook has taken a stance and decided that it will not be paying for news in Australia.
And in fact it has now banned Australian news sources from appearing in the news feeds of Australian users and Facebook has also blocked local users from linking to any international news sources.
And it seems that this has annoyed the Australian
Government. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said his government will not be intimidated by Facebook blocking news feeds to users. He described the move to unfriend Australia as arrogant and disappointing. Australians on Thursday
woke up to find that Facebook pages of all local and global news sites were unavailable. People outside the country are also unable to read or access any Australian news publications on the platform.
Several government health and emergency pages were
also blocked. Facebook later asserted this was a mistake and many of these pages are now back online.
Update: Facebook makes its case
18th February 2021. See
article from about.fb.com by William Easton, Managing Director, Facebook Australia & New Zealand
In response to Australia's proposed new Media Bargaining law, Facebook will restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.
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.
This discussion has focused on US technology companies and how they benefit from news content on their services. We understand many will ask why the platforms
may respond differently. The answer is because 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.
In fact, and as we have made clear to the Australian government for many months, the
value exchange between Facebook and publishers runs in favor 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 AU$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.
Over the last three years we've worked with the Australian Government to find a solution that
recognizes 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 .
Others have also raised concern. Independent experts and analysts around the world have consistently outlined problems
with the proposed legislation. While the government has made some changes, the proposed law fundamentally fails to understand how our services work.
Unfortunately, this means people and news organisations in Australia are now
restricted from posting news links and sharing or viewing Australian and international news content on Facebook. Globally, posting and sharing news links from Australian publishers is also restricted. To do this, we are using a combination of
technologies to restrict news content and we will have processes to review any content that was inadvertently removed.
For Australian publishers this means:
They are restricted from sharing or posting any content on Facebook Pages
Admins will still be able to access other features from their Facebook Page, including Page insights and Creator Studio
We will continue to provide access to all other standard Facebook services, including data tools and CrowdTangle
For international publishers this means:
For our Australian community this means:
For our international community this means:
The changes affecting news content will not otherwise change Facebook's products and services in Australia. We want to assure the millions of Australians using Facebook to connect with friends and family, grow their businesses and
join Groups to help support their local communities, that these services will not change.
We recognise it's important to connect people to authoritative information and we will continue to promote dedicated information hubs like
the COVID-19 Information Centre , that connects Australians with relevant health information. Our commitment to remove harmful misinformation and provide access to credible and timely information will not change. We remain committed to our third-party
fact-checking program with Agence France-Presse and Australian Associated Press and will continue to invest to support their important work.
Our global commitment to invest in quality news also has not changed. We recognise that
news provides a vitally important role in society and democracy, which is why we recently expanded Facebook News t o hundreds of pu blications in the UK.
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.