Facebook Ends News Sharing Standoff with Australian Government

Amendments to new legislation give Facebook more time to negotiate with news publishers, but the social media platform could still cut ties with publishers and the Australian government.

A week after blocking news sharing in Australia, Facebook ended its standoff with the Australian government after it amended a new regulation requiring digital platforms to pay publishers for news content displayed on their site. While the legislation was being drafted, Microsoft stated its support of such regulations. Facebook and Google, however, threatened to withdraw their news feed and search engine services from Australian users if the government moved forward with the legislation. Google negotiated with news publishers including Reuters, The Financial Times and News Corp individually.

Meanwhile, the social media platform held its ground, fearing that the regulation set a potentially expensive precedent for other governments to follow. Facebook’s stance included blocking links to news articles and to Facebook pages for Australian state agencies, health departments and emergency services, reports The New York Times.

Under the amended legislation, Facebook received more time to negotiate with news publishers individually or as a group, rather than being forced to immediately begin paying for news content. In addition, the revisions suggest that platforms like Facebook and Google could avoid such payments altogether if they voluntarily contribute money to support the news industry in Australia, according to The New York Times.

“Facebook has refriended Australia,” said Josh Frydenberg, Australian treasurer, in an NPR article.

Facebook’s current position

Campbell Brown, vice president of global news partnerships for Facebook, issued a statement early yesterday morning about the company’s current position.

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“After further discussions with the Australian government, we have come to an agreement that will allow us to support the publishers we choose to, including small and local publishers. We’re restoring news on Facebook in Australia in the coming days,” Brown said.

“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. It’s always been our intention to support journalism in Australia and around the world, and we’ll continue to invest in news globally and resist efforts by media conglomerates to advance regulatory frameworks that do not take account of the true value exchange between publishers and platforms like Facebook,” added Brown.

Why Facebook banned news sharing in Australia

Yesterday’s statement was an update to an earlier post where Facebook explained that it would restrict the availability of news sharing and viewing on Facebook in Australia. Brown said Facebook has worked closely with the Australian government for the last three years on developing a regulation that fosters strong collaboration while honoring innovation and sustainability for journalism. Facebook argued that they do support journalism and remain committed to it, despite what some may believe.

“What the proposed law introduced in Australia fails to recognize is the fundamental nature of the relationship between our platform and publishers. Contrary to what some have suggested, Facebook does not steal news content,” Brown said. “Publishers choose to share their stories on Facebook. From finding new readers to getting new subscribers and driving revenue, news organizations wouldn’t use Facebook if it didn’t help their bottom lines.”

Social media platform Facebook restores news sharing and viewing after Australian government grants concessions.
Social media platform Facebook restores news sharing and viewing after Australian government grants concessions. Image: Bigstock Photos.

Communication and collaboration

Brown also said that communication and collaboration with publishers is key to helping publishers to becoming successful digital-first businesses.

“It is critical that regulatory environments invite investment and innovation that will support as many news publishers as possible,” said Brown. “I hope in the future, we can include news for people in Australia once again. For now, we continue to be focused on bringing Facebook News and other new products to more countries and we have no intention of slowing down.”

Insider Take

The Australian government has taken a difficult but perhaps necessary step to support journalism and to require digital platforms to pay for the right to share news content. To many, this seems like a reasonable proposition, but big tech companies like Google and Facebook don’t want to be forced into paying news publishers without having a say in what that looks like. The amended legislation strikes a compromise, at least for now.

Australia’s new regulation is similar to legislation being considered in other jurisdictions like France, where Google has agreed to pay news publishers, and we can expect to see more of this in the future. The news industry has been slow to adapt to a digital-first world, and they need support. At the same time, news publishers are providing free content to social media platforms and search engines. This helps them expand their reach, but the digital platforms are getting the news content for free. By working together, both sides can benefit without hurting readers, subscribers or society in the process. [And it goes without saying that Facebook and Google can afford to pay their fair share.]