Facebook says it is prepared to ban Australian news sites from posting and sharing stories across Facebook and Instagram, if a proposed bargaining agreement forcing internet giants to pay local news outlets goes ahead.
In a new blog post, Will Easton, managing director of Facebook’s Australian and New Zealand operations, says the company “will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram” if the company is forced to open its wallet.
“This is not our first choice – it is our last,” Easton said.
“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.”
All of this stems from a proposed agreement drafted by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), which wants internet giants like Facebook and Google to financially compensate Aussie news producers.
Put simply, the ACCC’s argument goes like this: People flock to Facebook and Google to look up the news. Those companies make money from the ads shown on the News Feed or Google Search, respectively. The ACCC reckons news outlets should see some of that cash.
Facebook sees things differently. Easton argues that displaying news content on the platform drives clicks to news sites, bumping each outlet’s own advertising revenue and leading to an increase in subscribers.
He also pointed to Facebook News, a in-house feature which does pay news outlets for their content, but is yet to launch in Australia.
(Nine Entertainment, which owns PEDESTRIAN.TV, has previously called on the ACCC to push for a revenue-sharing arrangement between big news orgs and social media powerhouses.)
The University of Canberra’s Digital News Report: Australia 2020 found that 39% of Australians use Facebook to read or watch the news. Younger Aussies are way more likely to use Facebook for their news, too, with half of Gen Z seeking their info on the platform.
So, news on Facebook appears to be a big draw for many users. But Easton says it’s not that big of a deal, saying it “represents a fraction of what people see in their News Feed and is not a significant source of revenue for us.”
Easton said the proposed model would let news publishers charge whatever they want for news content.
The ACCC has already denied that’s what they’re going for; responding to Google’s open letter about the deal, ACCC said the draft deal would open the door for negotiations to “address a significant bargaining power imbalance between Australian news media businesses and Google and Facebook.”
What we have now is a giant game of Chicken, with two of the biggest companies on Earth staring down the Australian consumer watchdog.
Depending on who blinks first, your News Feed could swing back to uninterrupted baby photos, Minions memes, and rampant conspiracy theories.