Facebook Threatens to Block News in Australia Over Proposed Legislation

Australian legislation is meant to help publishers

Facebook threatened to block news in Australia. Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Source: Getty Images, Facebook
Headshot of Sara Jerde

Facebook is threatening to ban users in Australia from sharing local and international news if pending legislation that would require the social media behemoth to alter its financial agreements with media organizations is passed.

Legislators who released a draft of the legislation in July have said they see the proposal as an attempt to force platforms to better compensate publishers that depend on social media feeds to drive traffic to their own properties.

“We share the Australian Government’s goal of supporting struggling news organisations, particularly local newspapers, and have engaged extensively with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that has led the effort,” said Will Easton, Managing Director, Facebook Australia & New Zealand, in a blog post.

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

The discussion in Australia represents another country’s attempt to break up Big Tech’s dominance and share in the digital ad market. But it’s not the first: both Spain and France have tackled governing platforms’ relationships with publishers, according to previous reporting.

The tension between platforms and publishers also isn’t unique to Australia. In the U.S., media organizations are going up against Big Tech for a fair share of the digital ad ecosystem: Google was projected to have a 37.1 percent share here this year, while Facebook was expected to amass a 20.6 percent this year, according to eMarketer.

Without news on its channels, Facebook’s problems with misinformation—a topic that has come under the spotlight this summer—would become “much worse,” said David Chavern, CEO and president of News Media Alliance which represents thousands of newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.

“They would be taking away the only real balance for all the crazy rumors and conspiracy theories that they deliver,” Chavern said in a statement. “They should, instead, embrace quality journalism as an answer for many of their issues and offer Australian publishers better and more economically sustainable ways to deliver it to the public.”

Any government relief would come at an imperative time for publishers in a year where they’ve seen sharp declines in ad revenues due to the pandemic. Advertising levels internationally are expected to decline this year to adjust for marketing spends in light of the crisis.

Advertising in the U.S. is expected to decline only 4% this year compared to last, figures that are partially offset by political advertising in the election year.

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@SaraJerde sara.jerde@adweek.com Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.