Australian Facebook users will be forced to go elsewhere to read news after the company announced Wednesday that they will be restricting users in the country from sharing or viewing news links on the platform. The drastic move follows the debate on proposed legislation from the Australian government that seeks to push internet platforms — with a particular focus on advertising giants Facebook and Google — to pay news publishers directly for access to share their content.
Pulling back entirely was a nuclear option for Facebook, which had previously floated the possibility. In a blog post, the company sought to minimize the material impact of the decision to Facebook’s bottom line, while emphasizing what the move will cost users in Australia and around the globe. The company disclosed that just 4% of the content in Australian users’ feeds was news, though the platform did not break out other engagement metrics tied to news consumption.
In their post, Facebook sought to drive a distinction between how news content was shared on Facebook by users while content is algorithmically curated by Google inside their search product. “Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content,” William Easton, Facebook’s managing director for the region, wrote. “On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue.”
Google has already begun working with publishers to drive lump sum payments so that they continue to surface news content in the country, striking a deal Wednesday with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, despite their own earlier threats to shut down in Australia. Facebook’s action has ramifications for global users outside Australia who will be unable to share links on the platform to news publications based in the country.
This legislation is an aggressive example of regional legislation having the potential to drive global change for how internet platforms continue to operate. It’s clear that plenty of other countries are watching this saga play out. Facebook taking a hard line approach while Google seeks to strike private deals to stay active showcases different approaches from very different platforms being forced to reckon with how they operate in the future.