Facebook is threatening to block Australians from sharing news on its platforms if planned government regulation goes ahead

  • Facebook has threatened to block Australians from sharing news content on its platforms, including Instagram, if the government’s proposed media bargaining code goes ahead.
  • The code would set out standards for big tech platforms like Facebook to pay news publishers for displaying their content.
  • Facebook’s threats follows a similar campaign from Google, which has enlisted its YouTube community to fight the planned regulation.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Facebook has thrown down the gauntlet on Australia’s proposed media bargaining code – and it’s not happy.

In a broadside against the ACCC’s code, which will set a basic framework for big tech companies like Facebook and Google to pay local publishers for displaying their content, Facebook threatens to stop allowing Australians to share news articles to its platforms, including Instagram.

“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,” the post, by local managing director Will Easton, reads.

“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.”

Under the draft code proposed by the ACCC, companies like Google and Facebook would be compelled to pay a “fair” price to local publishers for displaying their content, and would have to provide some transparency on changes in algorithms which might affect traffic from their platforms.

Facebook argues that these measures constitute an overreach.

“The proposed law is unprecedented in its reach and seeks to regulate every aspect of how tech companies do business with news publishers,” Easton wrote.

“Most perplexing, it would force Facebook to pay news organisations for content that the publishers voluntarily place on our platforms and at a price that ignores the financial value we bring publishers.”

The company argues that it provides ample financial benefit to news publishers already, and – through programs like Facebook News – plans to continue to do so without the ACCC’s intervention.

“We already invest millions of dollars in Australian news businesses and, during discussions over this legislation, we offered to invest millions more,” the post reads.

“We had also hoped to bring Facebook News to Australia, a feature on our platform exclusively for news, where we pay publishers for their content. Since it launched last year in the US, publishers we partner with have seen the benefit of additional traffic and new audiences.”

Facebook’s threat to pull a significant and visible part of its product from Australia followed Google’s threat in August to do the same. The tech giant published an open letter from its Australian managing director Mel Silva which said its free services were “at risk” due to the proposed code.

“A proposed law, the News Media Bargaining Code, would force us to provide you with a dramatically worse Google Search and YouTube, could lead to your data being handed over to big news businesses, and would put the free services you use at risk in Australia,” Silva wrote.

Google’s response has so far been more aggressive than Facebook’s. After publishing the open letter, Google embarked on a campaign encouraging YouTubers to make submissions against the code and pitching it as a battle between smaller creators and outmoded media giants.

Australia could be a laboratory for regulation of big tech

The aggressive response from big tech to Australia’s regulatory efforts is perhaps unsurprising.

News publishers around the globe have been slammed by declining revenue, as tech giants like Facebook and Google increasingly suck up advertising profits. Media companies have long argued that Facebook and Google profit from the audiences journalism brings to their platforms – a benefit which is more intangible than raw traffic numbers.

The world’s governments will be watching Australia’s example closely to identify a workable model for regulation.

And there’s a strong possibility that Facebook and Google are not bluffing in their threat to kneecap their product in Australia. The European Union and several individual European countries have attempted in the past to force Google to pay publishers for displaying their content – with generally bad results.

In Spain, Google responded to the passing of a link tax in 2014 by delisting Spanish publishers from Google News and no longer offering the service within the country.

More than five years later, Google News remains unavailable in Spain.

Time will tell whether Australia can chart a different path.