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A News Ban? How Facebook’s Fight with the Australian Government Led to a Social Media Blackout

March 15, 2021


Years of consistent revenue decline for news organizations coupled with the billions of dollars of growth in digital advertising experienced by tech giants whose platform leveraged the work of news organizations led the news organizations’ to argue that tech giants ought to share in the revenue they had obtained in connection with the content of news organizations. Australia has been one of the first nations to agree with this argument, and after its competition regulator tried and failed to negotiate a voluntary payment plan for news content with Google, the Australian government proposed a “Media Bargaining Law” to compel tech giants, such as Facebook and Google, to negotiate with and compensate news organizations for the use of their media content on those tech giants’ platforms. Google and Facebook initially responded in kind, fighting hard against the proposed law. Google even went as far as having threatened to disable its search engine in Australia; Google employed a similar tactic in Spain in response to a 2014 law that required it to pay publishers for news content. While Google has since changed its position on the matter and has effectively yielded to news organizations’ demands for compensation; Facebook responded by immediately blocking users on its platform from accessing and sharing media from international and local news organizations. Facebook’s response in Australia stands in stark contrast to its decision in 2020 to pay U.S. news organizations including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and USA Today for headlines. Perhaps more troubling, however, is the fact that Facebooks news ban was seemingly indiscriminate in its scope, with the pages of local Australian fire and emergency services, domestic violence charities, state health agencies and other organizations being restricted. Members of the Australian government have gone so far as to state that "Facebook's actions were unnecessary, they were heavy-handed, and they will damage its reputation here in Australia".

With Canada and Europe indicating that they may pursue measures similar to Australia as against tech giants, the future of Facebook as a source of news remains to be seen.

Author: Nargis Fazli


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