Facebook Backtracks, Lifts Australian News Ban

Chimdi Chukwukere
Staff Writer

Facebook announced on March 2 that the company will lift its ban on Australians viewing and sharing news on the platform after the company struck a deal with the government regarding proposed legislation that would make tech companies pay for journalism shared on their platforms, the Associated Press reports.

This comes eight days after Facebook moved to prohibit publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content in response to Australia’s proposed media bargaining laws.

New proposed legislation, the News Media Bargaining Code, would mandate platforms like Google and Facebook to pay publishers for news content that appears on their sites. The Hill explains that it would also allow media companies to bargain with platforms over prices, a process that would end in government negotiation.

Highlighting the enormous power Google and Facebook hold in the advertising space, Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission said in a September report that out of every 100 Australian dollars spent by advertisers online in 2019, $53 went to Google, Facebook got $28, and only $19 went to other websites and advertising technology.

On February 23, Australia’s Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook confirmed that the two sides agreed to amendments to the proposed legislation. The changes would give companies one month’s notice before they are required to pay, giving them more time to negotiate before entering binding arbitration arrangements, PBS confirms.

A statement by Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president for news partnerships, added that the deal allows the company to choose which publishers it will support, including small and local ones.

“We’re restoring news on Facebook in Australia in the coming days. Going forward, the government has clarified we will retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook so that we won’t automatically be subject to a forced negotiation,” Brown said.

Commenting further on Facebook’s intent to negotiate directly with local media platforms, Facebook regional managing director William Easton said, “We are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them. As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days.”

Google, who had previously threatened to shut down searching in Australia in response to the legislation, backtracked, instead choosing to strike a three-year deal with the Murdoch family-owned media conglomerate News Corp., which includes ad revenue sharing and the development of a subscription platform, CNBC reports.

“Having worked for the Financial Times for several years, I saw the impact Facebook and Google were having on ad revenues for traditional publishers and I think it’s reasonable for them to be expected to pay something to use content from publishers,” said Josh Gasby, a Sydney local, to CNBC, further asserting that Facebook escalated the situation by banning non-news pages.

Although Facebook has rescinded this ban, it continues to receive international backlash from government officials, users, and analysts alike. Writing for The Guardian, Belinda Barnet opined that deciding to remove the main source of fact-checked information on its platform in the middle of a global pandemic and on the back of an announcement that it will ban fake news about vaccines, Facebook “has ensured that its product is suddenly less valuable.”

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