Facebook Just Banned News in Australia. Like, All of It.
The social network is taking the nuclear option in response to a proposed law that would force it to pay publishers
Facebook announced Wednesday that it will no longer allow links to news articles in Australia — period. That means Australian users won’t be able to link to any news articles, from any source, and Australian news publishers won’t be allowed to post to Facebook at all. Facebook users in the rest of the world will also be unable to view or share links to Australian news sources.
The drastic measure, which Facebook had been threatening for months, comes ahead of a law expected to pass in Australia that would require online platforms to pay news organizations for hosting links to their content. Earlier Wednesday, Google struck a deal to provide “significant payments” to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in exchange for hosting the company’s journalism, a sign that Google intends to comply with the law, after earlier threatening not to. Microsoft has also said it will comply and stood ready for Bing to suddenly become Australia’s top search engine had Google opted to withdraw from the country.
Facebook took the position that the law was untenable because it would penalize Facebook for decisions freely made by publishers and users to post news articles there. In its blog post, Facebook characterized news as a small fraction of its business — about 4% of what users see in their feeds — but something that it was happy to host as a sort of public service. (That feels like a bit of a stretch, though it’s certainly true that Facebook needs news content less than the news publishers need Facebook, at this point.) Exactly how Facebook will define news and how it will enforce the ban are not yet clear; the company said that it will use “a combination of technologies to restrict news content” and will establish “processes to review any content that was inadvertently removed.”
I’ll write more about this shakeout soon, but for now, the big thing to know is that this is an ugly, thorny mess in which there were no clear right answers — and how it plays out could shape the relationship between tech and the media in countries around the world.