In a blog post published on Tuesday, the social media company said it will “reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram” if new regulations by the Australian government become law. Under the proposed laws, tech companies would have to pay Australian media companies for their content.
Australia is drafting a new regulation that misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organizations the government is trying to protect. When crafting this new legislation, the commission overseeing the process ignored important facts, most critically the relationship between the news media and social media and which one benefits most from the other.
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. 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.
We share the Australian Government’s goal of supporting struggling news organizations, particularly local newspapers, and have engaged extensively with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that has led the effort. But its solution is counterproductive to that goal. The proposed law is unprecedented in its reach and seeks to regulate every aspect of how tech companies do business with news publishers. Most perplexing, it would force Facebook to pay news organizations for content that the publishers voluntarily place on our platforms and at a price that ignores the financial value we bring publishers.
The ACCC presumes that Facebook benefits most in its relationship with publishers, when in fact the reverse is true. News represents a fraction of what people see in their News Feed and is not a significant source of revenue for us. Still, we recognize that news provides a vitally important role in society and democracy, which is why we offer free tools and training to help media companies reach an audience many times larger than they have previously.
News organizations in Australia and elsewhere choose to post news on Facebook for this precise reason, and they encourage readers to share news across social platforms to increase readership of their stories. This in turn allows them to sell more subscriptions and advertising. Over the first five months of 2020 we sent 2.3 billion clicks from Facebook’s News Feed back to Australian news websites at no charge – additional traffic worth an estimated $200 million AUD to Australian publishers.
We already invest millions of dollars in Australian news businesses and, during discussions over this legislation, we offered to invest millions more. We had also hoped to bring Facebook News to Australia, a feature on our platform exclusively for news, where we pay publishers for their content. Since it launched last year in the US, publishers we partner with have seen the benefit of additional traffic and new audiences.
But these proposals were overlooked. 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. Unfortunately, no business can operate that way.
Facebook products and services in Australia that allow family and friends to connect will not be impacted by this decision. Our global commitment to quality news around the world will not change either. And we will continue to work with governments and regulators who rightly hold our feet to the fire. But successful regulation, like the best journalism, will be grounded in and built on facts. In this instance, it is not.