Australia vs. Facebook & Google Explained

You may have heard that there was recent tension between Australia and online media publishers. We’ll give you the important information on what exactly went down and why.

So what’s been going on with Australia vs. Facebook and Google this year? Maybe you tried to share a link on Facebook last month that came from an Australian news source and saw a strange warning like the one below:

Maybe you’ve seen the screenshots from Australian news outlets’ (and even government) Facebook pages that were completely blank starting on February 18th. So why were 17 million Australians cut off from getting any news on Facebook for two weeks?

The surprising move came as the social media giant pushed back against new government regulations. The new law requires Facebook and Google to pay for news content posted on their site. After some negotiations, Facebook and the government reached an acceptable compromise. The social media giant opened up the pages for the news outlets and Australia’s House of Representatives passed the News Media Bargaining Code last Thursday.

Although it did threaten to block search from Australia, ultimately, Google was not as confrontational. In the weeks leading up to the law’s implementation, Google worked with local media outlets to come up with payment agreements.

The Backstory

It’s no secret that news outlets have been suffering huge financial losses over the past two, decades as print began its slow death and consumers became increasingly accustomed to getting new articles online for free. How many of us are paying for that New York Times subscription?

News outlets have seen their bottom lines shrink, their staff suffer major layoffs, and overall, have had to do more (faster–thanks Twitter) with less. Meanwhile, they see the tech giants raking in profits by disseminating their content for free.

The tech giants have argued that they are helping the news outlet by driving traffic to their websites.


Why did the government step in?

A report from 2019 showed that of every $100 spent by Australian advertisers, Google got $53 and Facebook got $28. The power dynamic is completely skewed in favor of the tech giants, so the media companies were left with little bargaining power.

The new legislation commits Facebook and Google to certain spending minums and requires them to negotiate with media companies individually. Where negotiations fail, an independent arbiter can step in and set a price. The government argues that this gives more leverage to the media companies and ensures a more level playing field.

How did the platforms respond?

As we mentioned before and as you’ve likely heard, Facebook completely blindsided the Australians and they woke up to blanked-out pages for local news media, along with some government pages. Facebook claimed the law is “…like forcing carmakers to fund radio stations because people might listen to them in the car — and letting the stations set the price.”

Google initially threatened to block access to its search engine, however, they ultimately took a more moderate approach and opened up a dialog with the news outlets. The tech giant has reached an agreement with Nine Entertainment and Seven West Media for around $60M (we’re talking Australian dollars, by the way), and with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation for an undisclosed amount.

Facebook and the Australian government eventually came to the negotiating table and a compromise was reached.

Facebook unblocked the Australian pages and both tech companies have committed to a $1B annual spend over the next three years.

What does this all mean?

Well, Facebook’s blackout of news for almost two weeks didn’t go over too well in the public eye. Facebook themselves admitted that in an effort to quickly become compliant before the law went into effect that “some content was blocked inadvertently.”

Will the law in Australia be the precedent? Maybe. Canada, the UK, the EU, and the US have all floated similar ideas recently. As the tech giants have far more and more scrutiny due to their sheer size and control over information, we may see more developments like this globally.

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