As Australians woke up last Thursday and, as they typically do, grabbed their phone for a scroll through Facebook to find out what’s happening in Australia and the world, they found their Newsfeeds a lot emptier than usual thanks to a massive overnight announcement.
In response to the Australian Government’s proposed Media Bargaining Code, Facebook Australia has banned news publishers from sharing and viewing any news articles on the social media platform. The move also prevents people overseas from sharing Australian content on the social media site.
The Media Bargaining Code, which was introduced in December 2020 and was delivered by the Australian Senate on February 12th 2021, aims to level the playing field of competition amongst large media companies — such as Google and Facebook — by forcing them to pay Australian news outlets for their content. However, Facebook Australia’s nuclear option reflects the company’s view that Australian publishers gain more from sharing content on Facebook than Facebook does.
The company reported that online news content accounts for less than 4% of all content shared and will have minimal impact on Facebook’s advertising revenue. Although Facebook was planning on launching it’s ‘Facebook News’ function in Australia — which would increase the company’s investment in local publishers — the company doesn’t want to be forced into a revenue-sharing position by the government.
What it means
Australian news publishers will be unable to share their content on Facebook. Unlike Google, who has been striking deals with local news publications under it’s ‘Google News Showcase’ feature, Facebook has said it will prioritise investments to other countries instead as part of its plans to invest in new licensing news programs and experiences. It adds that it’s with a ‘heavy heart’ that it had to ban news content on its services in Australia.
However, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg Tweeted that the Australian Government remains in close discussion with Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. At this stage, it’s unclear whether the move is a permanent change by the company.
There will likely be further ongoing discussions between both parties.
The move has surprised many and is sending shockwaves across both the Australian media and social media landscape. Here are a few quick takeaways around the announcement based on consumer and media sentiment:
- Don’t expect Australians to abandon Facebook (in the short term). From as far back as 2009, Australia’s always been one of the most Facebook-addicted countries in the world. The announcement is unlikely to have much of an impact on the stickiness of the platform among the public more broadly.
- Keeping things in context is important. Further to the point above, getting news is a reason but not the main reason Australians use Facebook, or social media in general. Staying atop the latest news and current events is the #5 reason Australians use social media according to the 2020 Yellow Social Media Report (slightly down over previous years).
- Invest in owned channels and diversify your social presence. For both businesses and publishers, this is a chance to ramp up owned activities, such as email marketing, building immersive and engaging website content, and really looking at new and other long-standing social channels that perhaps haven’t gotten as much attention as Facebook in the past.
- Businesses can no longer share earned media coverage on their Facebook pages. Particularly for small and medium businesses, sharing a news story tended to drive strong engagement and was a particularly effective brand-building activity. This is no longer possible, although expect to see some businesses trying to get creative with work-arounds.
- Pages blocked in error are being reviewed. Many pages belonging to non-news organisations from major retailers to fire departments were caught up in the ban and blocked inadvertently. Facebook is reviewing these, and some of the more well-known brands have had their pages reinstated.