As some might be aware, there is currently a news war taking place in Australia. The Australian Government alongside the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) have drafted legislation which will compel companies like Google and social media platforms such as Facebook to pay for news on their respective apps and sites.
Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram. 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.
TL;DR Facebook will stop allowing publishers and Facebook users in Australia from sharing news content on Facebook and Instagram if the proposed legislation is passed and introduced in its current form.
While Facebook is a questionably non-transparent social media platform marred in controversy, they make some valid points about the value they bring to news organisations.
Admittedly, a bit of my news exposure is through Facebook as I follow numerous news organisations and engage in conversation with other commenters.
Over the first five months of 2020 we sent 2.3 billion clicks from Facebook’s News Feed back to Australian news websites at no charge – additional traffic worth an estimated $200 million AUD to Australian publishers.
Not everyone is convinced that Facebook is doing this for noble reasons
I disagree. Visit any of the major news websites (especially Murdoch media) and turn off your ad blocker. You will be greeted with so many advertisements and intrusive scripts you’ll hear the fan in your laptop spin up. This means traffic coming from Facebook and Google is providing these news sites impressions (and sometimes clicks).
I distrust Facebook and Google as much as the next tech-oriented privacy-aware person, but if Facebook pulls support for news, this will only hurt publishers, not Facebook. This won’t damage Facebook’s business. If you are looking for a good read on the proposed draft legislation, Stratechery has a great write up here.
I think quality news is worth paying for, but the reality is many of the Murdoch publications here in Australia are notoriously biased and right-wing. If it’s not biased political coverage, it’s trashy celebrity news or republications of news from other media partners (especially in the case of news.com.au).
In my opinion, this legislation is blackmail. While I have zero sympathies for companies like Facebook and Google who could afford to take the hit and pay, it’s the ambiguities around publishers being allowed to make up their own numbers that are the concerning thing about all of this.
Once again, this is the case of the government being asked to step in and legislate a dying industry because they can’t think of their own ways to make money. Ironically, the same government who refused to bail out the local car industry as it slowly died a horrible death and is now bailing out news organisations.
It really echoes the early days of the NBN when the government built a sub-par network which benefitted Rupert Murdoch and slowed down the threat of internet streaming companies like Netflix to Foxtel as users stuck on slow internet connections for users.
Australian tech figurehead Mike Cannon-Brookes (of Atlassian fame) had a more levelheaded response to the news of Facebook pulling support for news.
Coincidentally I just finished watching Fear City: New York vs The Mafia on Netflix and I am seeing some familiar mob tactics in play here. The only reason the government is even getting involved here is because of the influence news organisations have in Australia, even as their numbers dwindle.
I am sure the unofficial Prime Minister of Australia, Rupert Murdoch has a grin the size of a small island on his face right now.