18th February, 2021
Facebook users woke up today to a lack of local news in their feeds, but the ramifications of the Government’s media bargaining code may be just beginning.
Facebook has blocked Australian publishers as well as a number of public services and non-profits including the ABC and the Bureau of Meteorology from publishing news on its platform*, but has since signaled a return to normal service.
The move from Facebook was made in retaliation for the Government investigating laws that could require tech platforms like Facebook to pay publishers for journalism that appears in people’s feeds.
Facebook’s Australian managing director, Will Easton, confirmed news would be restored in Facebook newsfeeds in Australia “in the coming days” following the agreement with the government over changing the code.
“We’re pleased that we’ve been able to reach an agreement with the Australian government and appreciate the constructive discussions we’ve had with treasurer Frydenberg and minister Fletcher over the past week,” he said in a blog post, reported by The Guardian.
“After further discussions, we are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognise the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them.”
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The social media giant as released it’s own statement on the matter, here.
ABC News reports the Government is in talks with Facebook, with founder Mark Zuckerberg having recently spoken to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
“This morning, I had a constructive discussion with Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook,” Frydenberg tweeted.
“He raised a few remaining issues with the Government’s news media bargaining code and we agreed to continue our conversation to try to find a pathway forward.”
But Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the social media giant’s credibility as a news source should be scrutinised, with its latest actions giving the Australian public even more reason to get behind the bargaining code.
“Facebook needs to think very carefully about what this means for its reputation and standing,” Fletcher told Radio National.
“At a time when there are already questions about the credibility of information on Facebook, that is something that they will obviously need to think about.”
The legislation implementing the code passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday evening, while the Senate is likely to pass it sometime next week.
The code is designed to ensure media companies are paid fairly for the use of their content on search engines and social media platforms.
Major media companies Seven West Media, Nine, and News Corp have all reportedly struck content deals with Google this week, while the ABC, which is also covered by the code, is yet to strike a deal.
According to The Herald Sun, The Bureau of Meteorology, Fire and Rescue NSW, Harvey Norman, small businesses and mothers groups were all initially included in the ban, with some having since had their service returned.
A Facebook spokesman told reporters the groups were removed as Facebook had taken “a broad definition (of news) in order to respect the law as drafted,” but access to government agencies had since been restored and Facebook could still restore other pages caught out by the ban.
If you’re running a business page on Facebook that’s been unfairly caught out by the media ban, it’s understood the social media giant will be opening an appeals process from 25 February.
At this stage, the exact scale of the fallout for advertisers on Facebook and via now-blocked publishers is unclear.
It may be that Facebook’s embargo is short lived, or it may be a sign of bigger changes to come.
In either case, it’s a clarion call reminder that small business brands should ultimately work to capture an audience via their ‘owned channels’ — such as an email subscription database or general website activity.
After all, this action by Facebook starkly highlights what can happen when your wagon is closely hitched to another brand’s.