Facebook bans all Australian news media sharing
Facebook has responded to proposed Australian media bargaining legislation with blanket bans on Australian content that are now rolling out across its social media platform. Currently, Covid and bushfire information sites are among the blocked content.
Australian Facebook users are finding themselves unable to share any news content, from Australian or international sites, and Facebook says international users will be unable to share any content from Australian sites once the rollout is complete.
The move is in response to the Australian government's News Media Bargaining Code, which targeted Facebook and Google specifically as platforms that benefit from content produced by Australian media sites but don't pay for it. The code seeks to "address the bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms, specifically Google and Facebook."
Google, for its part, has signed a "significant" deal with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, as well as reported US$30 million dollar deals with Nine Entertainment and Seven West Media – three of the main companies that pushed the Australian government to develop this legislation.
Facebook believes its circumstances are different. In a press release that went live with the blocks, the platform stated "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."
Either way, the content blocks have started coming down, and there has already been significant collateral damage from whatever algorithm the Facebook team deployed. At the time of writing, the Bureau of Meteorology weather service is blocked, with bushfire season imminent. State health and coronavirus information pages have been blocked, as well as some other government services. Comedy and satire sites have been blocked. Retail sites have been blocked. Facebook says it "will have processes to review any content that was inadvertently removed," but it's unclear what the appeal process will look like.
Either way, the fallout will be severe for Australian media companies that rely on Facebook sharing for much of their traffic.