Facebook Australia threatens to block news sharing on its platforms if government forces it to pay publishers for content

Facebook Australia news

Facebook Australia is threatening to block publishers and individuals from sharing news on its platforms if the country’s government pushes forward with plans to make the tech giant pay for content.

Australia wants to introduce new rules that would force Google and Facebook – together dubbed the ‘Duopoly’ because of their domination of the advertising market – to pay publishers for the use of their content.

In a blog post on Monday, Will Easton – managing director of Facebook Australia & New Zealand – said: “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.

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“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.”

Easton said the proposed regulations were “perplexing” because they 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”.

He said that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission – which drafted the rules – “presumes that Facebook benefits most in its relationship with publishers, when in fact the reverse is true”.

He estimated that, in the first five months of 2020, Facebook’s news feed sent 2.3bn clicks to Australian news websites, estimating that these would be worth $AU200m.

During the ACCC consultation period, Facebook Australia claimed it did not rely on news content – which it described as “highly substitutable” – and even hinted that it could choose to charge publishers to use its services.

At the time, Jason Kint – the chief executive of US online publishing trade body Digital Content Next – told Press Gazette that Facebook’s claim was a “bluff that will fail”.

He added: “[H]ere’s the reality: without news, there is little currency of quality information. Without news, there is less trust. Without news, Facebook is a message board environment full of high-risk user-generated content. Without news, Facebook risks advertisers really starting to understand all of this.”

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