Facebook Ends Australia News Blackout After Law Compromise

The logo for Facebook is displayed on a smartphone in an arranged photograph taken in Little Falls, New Jersey, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Facebook Inc. is tightening its rules on content concerning the U.S. presidential election next month, including instituting a temporary ban on political ads when voting ends, as it braces for a contentious night that may not end with a definitive winner. Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) --Facebook Inc. backed down from its news blackout in Australia after the government agreed to amend world-first legislation forcing the tech giant and Google to pay local publishers for content.

By Angus Whitley
Feb 23, 2021, 6:38 AM – Updated on Feb 23, 2021, 11:05 AM
Word Count: 726

The social-media platform switched off news sharing in Australia last week in opposition to the proposed law, and Mark Zuckerberg and government officials have been locked in talks to find a compromise.

Among key concessions, the government said Tuesday it would take into account commercial deals Google and Facebook reach with news companies before deciding whether they are subject to the law, and would also give them one month’s notice. The platforms also won more time to strike deals with publishers before they’re forced into final-offer arbitration as a last resort.

The legislation, which is expected to pass parliament this week, has made Australia a testing ground for digital-platform regulation as jurisdictions worldwide rein in the Silicon Valley juggernauts.

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Tuesday that Facebook had now re-engaged with news publishers and was seeking to reach commercial deals. Hours after the agreement was unfurled, Australia’s Seven West Media Ltd. disclosed separately it had signed a letter of intent to provide content to Facebook, without elaborating on financial arrangements.

“There is no doubt that Australia has been a proxy battle for the world,” Frydenberg said. “So many other countries are looking at what is happening here in Australia.”

Facebook said the restrictions on sharing news will be lifted “in the coming days.”

“We are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns,” William Easton, managing director for Facebook Australia & New Zealand, said in a statement.

In blocking news sharing, Facebook switched off the main news source for almost one in five Australians. It also disabled — accidentally, the company said — a raft of government Facebook pages carrying public health advice on the coronavirus, warnings from the weather bureau and even the site of a children’s hospital.

The abrupt move drew international scrutiny at a time global regulators are already ramping up efforts to curtail the growing influence of Facebook and other tech titans.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week he’s fielded queries from several world leaders about the Facebook clash, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Canadian leader Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron and the U.K.’s Boris Johnson.

“It seems very sensible of Facebook to retreat as this could have potentially been very damaging to its brand,” said Nicole Bridges, a lecturer in public relations at Western Sydney University.

To read more on the law:
Facebook Blocks News in Australia in Warning for the World
Facebook’s Australia Face-Off Could Backfire Across the Globe
Life Without Google: Australia Is Now Facing the Unthinkable
Australia Says Facebook ‘Back at the Table’ After Blocking Pages

Like Facebook, Alphabet Inc.-owned Google has also negotiated hard with the government and last year said it would shut down its search engine in Australia if the law was enacted. That stance appears to have softened, and in recent days Google has independently struck deals to pay Australian publishers including News Corp. for news, rather than be forced into arbitration.

Some viewed the arrangement in Australia as a victory for Facebook, which demonstrated its value to publishers struggling to grow traffic.

“Facebook’s action clearly demonstrates the value that it provides to the news sites and this will feature heavily in those ‘good faith negotiations’,” said Richard Windsor, a former Nomura telecom analyst and founder of independent researcher Radio Free Mobile.

(Updates with new deal, analyst’s and Morrison’s comments from the fourth paragraph)

–With assistance from Jason Scott.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Nothing I search on Google is likely to return results from Australian tabloid news, or any tabloid news. If it would have : no loss.

    Bring on anonymous tokens to read what you want, free from garbage like Walmart Wardrobe Failure videos and Amazing Diet ads.

  • Chris Green says:

    A Luta Continua !! Well, I’m not so sure that Bloomberg has positioned it THAT correctly, that FB backed down. Aus Govt may think it has ‘won the first round’ but FB will circle from another angle. Maybe let’s follow the money (or where the money is expected to surface) and that’s why other govts are ‘keen to learn’ .

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