Facebook says it will block news in Australia

Mariam Cheik-Hussein
By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 1 September 2020
Will Easton

Facebook will stop Australian publishers and users from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram should the government’s proposed draft news media bargaining code be legislated.

The draft code, outlined in July, will force Google and Facebook to enter into negotiations with news publishers to agree on a payment. It will also require the tech companies to provide news publishers with information about users’ data and how their algorithm works.

Google has publicly protested the proposed code, and now Facebook says the code “misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organisations the government is trying to protect”.

Facebook Australia and New Zealand managing director Will Easton says if the code is legislated the social media company will “reluctantly” stop publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news across the platforms.

“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,” Easton says.

“We share the Australian Government’s goal of supporting struggling news organisations, particularly local newspapers, and have engaged extensively with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that has led the effort. But its solution is counterproductive to that goal.

“The proposed law is unprecedented in its reach and seeks to regulate every aspect of how tech companies do business with news publishers. Most perplexing, it would force Facebook to pay news organisations for content that the publishers voluntarily place on our platforms and at a price that ignores the financial value we bring publishers.”

Easton says that it’s publishers who benefit more from the current relationship with digital platforms, adding that news represents a “fraction” of what people see in their News Feed.

He adds that Facebook had hoped to bring Facebook News, a dedicated news tab where it pays news publishers for their content, to Australia. 

“We already invest millions of dollars in Australian news businesses and, during discussions over this legislation, we offered to invest millions more,” Easton says.

“We had also hoped to bring Facebook News to Australia, a feature on our platform exclusively for news, where we pay publishers for their content. Since it launched last year in the US, publishers we partner with have seen the benefit of additional traffic and new audiences.

“But these proposals were overlooked. Instead, we are left with a choice of either removing news entirely or accepting a system that lets publishers charge us for as much content as they want at a price with no clear limits. Unfortunately, no business can operate that way.”

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