Facebook blocked Australian users from sharing and viewing news articles on their feeds on Wednesday, following months of back-and-forth with local officials. The dramatic step follows a debate with lawmakers over how to rebalance the relationship between tech platforms and legacy media outlets.
The country's proposed "news and media bargaining code" would force Facebook and Google to pay news publishers to display stories in their search results and news feeds. Google initially threatened to remove its search engine from Australia altogether, saying the code would disrupt its business model. But it has since taken a softer approach, enticing news publishers -onto its Showcase platform with multi-million dollar deals. The showcase would enable users to access previously paywalled content for free. It has signed deals with some of its fiercest media critics.
Facebook, however, has taken the nuclear option: blocking Australians from sharing news content. That crackdown has inadvertently and temporarily included a host of public service institutions' pages, including fire departments and food banks. This is the first time Facebook has taken such drastic action, but it might not be the last, because multiple regulatory agencies and governments are considering new rules around news payments. These rules are in varying stages of progress.
Similarly, traffic to the Australian news sites from Facebook alone plummeted from around 21% to about 2% within Australia, and from around 30% to about 4% outside the country. News Corp Australasia Executive Chairman Michael Miller, testifying at an unrelated parliamentary hearing, confirmed the impact but said the number of Australians visiting the company's websites directly had risen.