Facebook threatens to block sharing of news stories in Australia

Facebook threatens to block sharing of news stories in Australia

The FINANCIAL -- Facebook has warned that they will block Australians from sharing news if a landmark plan to make digital platforms pay for news content becomes law. On the other hand, the sharing of personal content between family and friends will not be affected by this change and neither will the sharing of news by users outside of Australia. Facebook is accused of bullying because of the statement they shared on their blog and the plans they made. Managing Director of Facebook Australia & New Zealand thinks that when crafting this new legislation, the commission overseeing the process ignored important facts, most critically the relationship between the news media and social media and which one benefits most from the other.

Google also hinted that it might have to cut off its services in Australia in an open letter to users on Aug. 17. Google said the government’s draft legislation would give large media companies “special treatment” so they could make unreasonable demands that would make it difficult to keep Google search and YouTube videos free. The situation in Australia, while still playing out, demonstrates how government measures to diminish the influence of technology companies are creating digital fences between countries. While China has imposed restrictions on companies operating there for years, the United States has shown a recent willingness to exercise exclusionary tactics on popular services from Chinese internet companies. The proposed changes in Australia could also contribute to the spread of disinformation, since news from legitimate news sources would be harder to find. Over the past two months, the Trump administration has squared off against the Chinese government over the forced sale of ByteDance’s viral video app, TikTok, to an American technology company, as reported by The New York Times. 

The new rules, strongly backed by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp Australia, would force Facebook and Google to give news outlets a bigger cut of digital advertising revenue. It is the most aggressive effort yet by any country to curb Silicon Valley's power over the news business. News organizations around the world have long chafed at Facebook's and Google's takeover of the digital ad industry. The two companies account for more than half of the annual digital ad spending in the U.S. and more than 70 percent in Australia. That has left publishers scraping for smaller pieces of the pie, even as their content reaches larger and larger audiences. In recent years, European countries have tried and largely failed to force the platforms to give more to publishers. When Spain enacted a law in 2014 forcing Google to pay for headlines and news summaries in Google News, Google removed Spanish news outlets, dealing a blow to the nation's news industry. France and Germany have also tried and failed to bring Google to heel, NBC News wrote.

Managing Director of Facebook Australia & New Zealand Will Easton made update post about changes to Facebook’s services in Australia. He stated that Australia is drafting a new regulation that misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organisations the government is trying to protect. When crafting this new legislation, the commission overseeing the process ignored important facts, most critically the relationship between the news media and social media and which one benefits most from the other. Assuming this draft code becomes law, Facebook will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook stated 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.

Facebook shares 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 their platforms and at a price that ignores the financial value they bring publishers. 

Easton denied the ACCC’s claim that the digital giants make money from news, saying “the reverse is true” in the case of Facebook. He said in the first five months of 2020 Facebook sent two billion clicks from Facebook’s News Feed back to Australian news websites “at no charge”, traffic that was worth an estimated $200m to Australian publishers. In the incendiary post Facebook branded the scheme devised by the ACCC as one which allowed publishers to “charge us for as much content as they want at a price with no clear limits”. The statement had some support, including from billionaire tech mogul Mike Cannon-Brookes who said media would be the loser not Facebook, according to The Guardian.

Facebook has already invested millions of dollars in Australian news businesses and, during discussions over this legislation, they offered to invest millions more. They had also hoped to bring Facebook News to Australia, a feature on their platform exclusively for news, where they pay publishers for their content. Since it launched last year in the US, publishers they partner with have seen the benefit of additional traffic and new audiences. But these proposals were overlooked, as Facebook says. Instead, they are left with a choice of either removing news entirely or accepting a system that lets publishers charge them for as much content as they want at a price with no clear limits. Unfortunately, no business can operate that way. Facebook products and services in Australia that allow family and friends to connect will not be impacted by this decision. Their global commitment to quality news around the world will not change either. And they will continue to work with governments and regulators who rightly hold their feet to the fire. But successful regulation, like the best journalism, will be grounded in and built on facts. In this instance, it is not, they said. 

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Author: The FINANCIAL