Facebook responds to proposed media laws in Australia with a threat to ban sharing of news posts

The media wars are heating up in Australia as a battle between Facebook and other tech platforms line up against traditional media providers and the Australian Government. Facebook is now threatening to block both the users and media organisations in Australia sharing news stories, if the Australian government’s plan to demand Facebook, Instagram, Google, etc to pay for content goes ahead.

Media companies have been railing against the big media tech companies complaining that their reposting of ‘their’ stories, even Google’s use of a thumbnails and headlines in their search engine, constitutes a breach of copyright and the tech companies should pay the authors of the photos and stories.

Both Google and Facebook argue that their platforms provide an astonishing level of ‘eyeballs’ on the media company’s news stories through their websites and Facebook pages. Whilst acknowledging that they also profit from people finding their news on the tech platforms, both tech companies say the biggest winners are the actual media companies and stopping the service would only harm their profits in the long run.

They argue that the genie is out of the bottle and that the move to digital platforms and social media will continue, whether the traditional media like it or not.

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Google, also targeted in the current proposals, is also campaigning forcefully against the proposed changes. They’ve even created their own counter-campaign with pop-ups on the search engine warning “the way Aussies use Google is at risk”. Same with their YouTube channel as they asked YouTubers and viewers around the world to complain to Australian authorities about the proposed legislation.

Facebook says that Australians would be prevented from posting local and international news stories on their platforms (Facebook also owns Instagram), claiming their reaction was “not our first choice” but the “only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic”.

The Australian government, with the support of the powerful news barons, has drawn up legislation to force Facebook and Google to pay struggling local news organisations for content or face millions of dollars in fines. The new laws could also force tech companies to reveal their closely guarded algorithms used to rank content.

In response, and throughout the debate, both Facebook and Google have claimed the proposed overhaul “misunderstands the dynamics of the internet” and will instead damage the news organisations the government is trying to protect.

“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,” according to Facebook Australia and NZ MD, Will Easton.

He also accused the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which has been preparing drafts of the new regulations, of having “ignored important facts” during a consultation process that concluded yesterday.

“News represents a fraction of what people see in their News Feed and is not a significant source of revenue for us.”

Along with the rise of the digital distribution of news, the traditional media have suffered huge drops in revenue with the consumers starting to use the new media – websites, apps, social media platforms – as their ‘go to’ source of news and information.

But Facebook say their platform sent 2.3 billion ‘clicks’ to Australian news websites in just the first 5 months of 2020 and was preparing to bring Facebook News to Australia, a new Facebook feature launched in the US last year where news publishers are paid for their news.

“Instead, we are left with a choice of either removing news entirely or accepting a system that lets publishers charge us for as much content as they want at a price with no clear limits.”

The proposed legislation will initially focus mainly on Facebook and Google but could eventually be rolled out to apply to any digital platform.

The proposals have strong support from powerful media outlets in Australia and is expected to be introduced this year. Australia’s media landscape has been run by a collection of powerful families and large media enterprises that have controlled media content for decades, including the Murdoch, Fairfax and Packer dynasties.

NOTE: The endgame on all this will be the success of the smaller online media players in Australia giving permission to the Googles and Facebooks to use their ‘news’ and, ultimately, become the platforms and locations Australians will get their news in the future – The Thaiger.

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