What the Facebook news ban means for Australian publishers

Mariam Cheik-Hussein
By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 18 February 2021

Publishers have responded to Facebook’s ban on news content in Australia, with Nine Entertainment saying the move proves the social platform’s monopoly position.

This morning Facebook announced that news content can’t be shared or viewed for Australian users in response to the news media bargaining code. Globally, users will also not be able to view or share Australian news.

Many smaller digital publishers are expected to feel the ban the most because they use social media to reach, build and maintain audiences. 

Nine says that the ban is “unfortunate”, but highlights that Facebook has already benefited from its content over the years.

“This action proves again their monopoly position and unreasonable behaviour,” a Nine spokesperson says.

"Nobody benefits from this decision as Facebook will now be a platform for misinformation to rapidly spread without balance."

Nine says today’s statement does not mean Facebook will not have to abide by the Federal Government's proposed code.

“Value has already been transferred and Facebook has benefited from our content for many years. We should be able to access their monopoly platform and have the right to monetise our content as a result," Nine says.

“We have been negotiating with Facebook in good faith and we remain willing to do a deal with them that provides a mutually beneficial outcome and ensures quality information is available to all Australians on their platform.”

Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp Australasia, in an email to staff: "This is a move that clearly encourages fake news over reliable news and demonstrates the extraordinary market power Facebook holds.

"While we are disappointed in Facebook’s moves today, we have had months of discussions with them to date, and we will continue to do so." 

Dan Stinton, managing director, The Guardian Australia: "Facebook is already struggling to moderate the mass of disinformation that is so prominent in its news feed.

"The best antidote to this is the promotion of fact-based journalism, so this decision risks making the platform the permanent home of cat videos and conspiracy theories. 

"Advertisers should ask themselves whether they want to be associated with a company that refuses to engage in regulation from the democratically elected Australian government, let alone an advertising platform that trades in disinformation with no safeguards on the context their campaigns appear."

Simon Wheeler, director of content, Verizon Media ANZ: "We’re disappointed Facebook has felt the need to take this drastic action, which is going to have a tangible effect on Australian publishers and will adversely impact the large number of Australians who use their news feed to discover news stories.

"Removing premium and trusted content poses further challenges for Facebook  in providing a brand-safe and premium environment. 

"In Australia we have been preparing for this eventuality and working hard to diversify our sources of audience, including the use of our Verizon Media proprietary Native solution.  This approach has resulted in double-digit audience growth for our brands - Yahoo News, Yahoo Sport, Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Lifestyle.  These solutions are available to all publishers for use." 

The ABC says it will continue discussions with Facebook despite the ban.

"The ABC’s digital news services will always remain free and accessible to all Australians on the ABC website and via the ABC News app, providing independent and reliable news, information and analysis," says managing director David Anderson.

"Despite key issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic having ongoing effects on all Australians, Facebook has today removed important and credible news and information sources from its Australian platform." 

SCA CEO Grant Blackley: “SCA was surprised at the announcement and general lack of engagement. We expect Facebook and their users will be poorer given this outcome.

“Moving forward we expect that Facebook will continue to encourage publishers like ourselves to entertain audiences through their platform with premium video and audio assets.

“Radio engages audiences at scale every day – not just through Facebook but through its other platforms especially Instagram, which at this time seems to be unaffected. We look forward to understanding the rules of engagement moving forward.”

The ban also appears to have impacted non-news pages, including government departments.

Scott Purcell, cofounder of small publisher Man of Many, says that while he doesn’t agree with Facebook’s ban, he does understand its rationale.

“While we don't agree with Facebook's decision to ban all news content on its platform in Australia, we do understand the rationale behind it as we believe the proposed code was unworkable in its current form, particularly for publishers to be paid for content that they voluntarily share to such platforms,” Purcell told AdNews.

“Positively, Facebook only made up less than 3% of Man of Many's overall traffic and as a publisher have always focused on mitigating any reliance on any one platform by growing our 'owned' audience such as our email newsletter. 

“The decision is unlikely to impact upon Man of Many in any significant way but it will have a significant impact on many other smaller independent publishers who have been courted by Facebook to grow their audiences on the platform and consequently become very reliant on it to generate traffic. 

“It has always been incredibly difficult for new players and publishers to build an audience on the platform since they made changes to their algorithm to focus on more personal news, but there are many other opportunities to grow an audience across other social platforms, through google and SEO as well as producing unique and engaging content.” 

However, other publishers who rely on social media for traffic will be hit. 

During a Senate Committee hearing, Junkee Media CEO Neil Ackland said that the youth-focused publisher has about 75% of its traffic driven by search and social, with almost all of that coming from Facebook or Google.

Junkee yesterday announced that it had signed a letter of intent to curate news content for Google’s newly-launched News Showcase platform. 

Junkee editorial director Rob Stott says the publisher is disappointed by the move from Facebook.

“This decision will mean Australians no longer have access to a vital source of public interest journalism at a time when the truth has never been more valuable,” Stott says.

“This decision will undoubtedly have an outsized effect on small and medium-sized digital publishers, which will have a significant detrimental impact on the diversity of media voices available to Australians.

“We urge the federal government and Facebook to work constructively to find a solution to this issue that is workable for all parties.”

The Urban List founder and CEO Susannah George says being able to share its content freely across Facebook directed millions of dollars to small Australian businesses.

“The livelihood of many small businesses rely on the discretionary spend of Gen Y and Z and if the dominant channels young Australians turn to are quashed, then we risk cutting off a significant income stream for local and regional businesses at a time when they need it the most,” George says.

“Facebook's decision to restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing not just hard news, but any content, will have a significant and detrimental impact far beyond the media landscape, and our team is now hard at work to ensure we find new ways to fuel and support our cities' businesses and culture.

“Despite the best of intent, the draft code has squashed the upward momentum of digital-first publishing platforms in a real blow to the diversity and vibrancy of the Australian media landscape.

“Last year prepared us well for the resilience and agility required to succeed — particularly when diversity of voices is under threat — and we're now focused on how we move forward, building fresh partnerships, allies and support networks so that we can continue to do our role: moving Australians to live their best life."

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