Facebook Blocks Sharing of News Content in Australia

Todd Spangler
·3 min read

Facebook said that, in response to Australia’s proposed law to force internet platforms to pay for news content, it will no longer let publishers or users in the country share news content on its service.

Facebook’s decision means Australian publishers will not be able to share or post content on Facebook pages, while news content from non-Australian publishers will not be able to be viewed or shared by Australian users. In addition, users outside of Australia will not be able to view or share Australian news content on Facebook or content from Australian news pages.

More from Variety

“Today we made an incredibly difficult decision to restrict the availability of news on Facebook in Australia,” Campbell Brown, Facebook’s VP of global news partnerships, said in a statement Wednesday. “Contrary to what some have suggested, Facebook does not steal news content. Publishers choose to share their stories on Facebook. From finding new readers to getting new subscribers and driving revenue, news organizations wouldn’t use Facebook if it didn’t help their bottom lines.”

Google similarly threatened to pull its search engine from Australia over the country’s proposed news media bargaining code. But in recent weeks Google has been signing deals to pay Australian news publishers, including a three-year pact with News Corp announced Wednesday covering publications in Australia and other parts of the world.

The proposed Australian measure would amend the Competition and Consumer Act of 2010 to require digital-platform companies to negotiate licensing deals with registered news business corporations — and if they can’t come to terms, to submit to compulsory arbitration.

The legislation “seeks to penalise Facebook for content it didn’t take or ask for,” William Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, wrote in a blog post.

Easton drew a distinction between the social giant and Google. “Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content,” he wrote. “On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue.”

According to Easton, “the value exchange between Facebook and publishers runs in favor of the publishers,” claiming that in 2020 Facebook generated approximately 5.1 billion “free referrals” to Australian publishers — which he said was worth an estimated AU$407 million (US$315 million).

Facebook’s “business gain from news is minimal,” Easton wrote, saying that news comprises less than 4% of the content people see in their News Feed.

Last month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg discussed the legislation with Josh Frydenberg, who serves as Australia’s treasurer, and communications minister Paul Fletcher. According to Frydenberg, “Mark Zuckerberg didn’t convince me to back down, if that’s what you are asking,” he official said in an interview with ABC’s “Insiders” program.

On Thursday morning in Australia, users in the country confirmed that Facebook had begun blocking their ability to share links to news articles. The move also resulted in non-news sites getting shut out of Facebook, including the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

“So @Facebook has blocked access to our website. We are not a news organisation,” ACTU secretary Sally McManus wrote in a tweet. “Australian workers can not now find out about their rights at work via
@Facebook. This is disgraceful & needs to be reversed immediately.”

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.