Traffic to leading news websites in Australia fell sharply following the decision by Facebook last week to ban them from the platform, according to Press Gazette analysis.
In a decision that has since been reversed following a week of negotiations with the Australian government, Facebook last Wednesday removed news content from its platform in response to the planned News Media Bargaining Code. The law is designed to force Google and Facebook to pay publishers for news.
According to data on page visits provided to Press Gazette by web analytics firm SimilarWeb, a comparison of like-for-like days shows that traffic to 20 leading Australian news sites on Thursday February 17 was 24% lower than the previous Thursday.
Page visits on the Friday and Saturday following Facebook’s decision were 19% and 18% down respectively compared to the same days in the previous week, suggesting a link with the social media giant’s controversial move.
Among the leading sites which saw the biggest hit in traffic from Thursday to Thursday were 7News, which saw a 69% fall in page views; the Herald Sun, which saw a 46% decline; and 9News, which saw a drop of 46%. All but three sites domestic news sites analysed saw a fall in traffic.
Overall, traffic to the Australian sites analysed fell by 22% between February 17, the day before Facebook’s blackout came into effect, and February 20 (the latest available date for which data is available). Combined page views to these sites fell from 12.3 million to 9.6 million over the period.
The tech giant’s decision last week sparked a fierce backlash in the news industry. As reported by Press Gazette, newspaper the Herald Sun dubbed the company the “Anti-social network” and “fakebook”, while a scathing editorial in the Australian Daily Telegraph wrote that “Facebook is a ruthless trillion-dollar entity prepared to sweep an entire nation aside if it doesn’t get its way”.
It was not only Australian publishers, however, who were targeted by the blackout. Facebook’s decision also blocked Australian users from viewing pages of global news sites.
Referrals to leading Australian news websites from social media networks plunged dramatically – falling 48% between February 17 and February 20, according to SimilarWeb data. Although the data we have is not available broken down by social network, Facebook is the most popular social platform in Australia and would account for a significant part of this.
According to Facebook, professional news makes up less than 4% of the content people see in their news feed. But many news sites gain a significant amount of traffic from Facebook referrals.
A survey for the annual Reuters Digital News Report found that 70% of Australians use Facebook each month and 39% use it as a source of news.
Yesterday, Thursday, the Austrlian parliament passed a watered-down version of its news media bargaining law in a move which Daily Mail owned Lord Rothermere said was a result of “blackmail” from Facebook and Google.