Facebook – in a giant pushback against an Australian legislation on monetising news content online – blocked out users and news organisations, among others, in Australia from sharing news and other links on their platform.
The move came close on the heels of a deal between Google and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp that will lead to the search engine paying for journalism from news sites around the world.
Under the new law, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has proposed that both digital moguls – Facebook and Google – should be obligated to negotiate agreements with news outlets and compensate them for their content on their platforms.
The row between the Australian government and Google and Facebook fundamentally acknowledges the imbalance generated due to the unbounded flow of advertising revenues towards tech giants at the cost of media houses.
Why Did Google Agree to Pay News Publishers While Facebook Did Not?
Initially, both companies stood firmly opposed to the regulatory law, until this week when Google announced a three-year global agreement with Murdoch’s News Corp and agreed to compensate for its news material in a bid to accommodate with the repercussions of the law.
Facebook maintained its former position, diverged and immediately restricted people and publishers from sharing or viewing news links in Australia.
In a post on 17 February, William Easton, Facebook’s Managing Director in Australia and New Zealand, elaborated on its decision, saying that the code “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content.”
“Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content. On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook,” he added, pointing out the the social media generated around 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers, estimated at around AU$407 million.
On the other hand, Don Harrison, president for global partnerships at Google, said Google had invested to help news houses over the years and that it hoped “to announce even more partnerships soon.”
Why Did the Companies Take Opposing Stances on the Same Issue?
According to an analysis in The New York Times, this row between regulators and digital giants, and the companies’ subsequent stances, have illustrated that Facebook and Google have contrasting views on the value of news.
The article notes:
“Google’s mission statement has long been to organise the world’s information, an ambition that is not achievable without up-to-the-minute news. For Facebook, news is not as central. Instead, the company positions itself as a network of users coming together to share photos, political views, internet memes, videos – and, on occasion, news articles.”
And so, news is a peripheral part of that content for Facebook as compared to Google.
A report by The Washington Post quoted Johan Lidberg, a media professor at Melbourne’s Monash University, as saying, “Google also appears to be more in tune with what the community wants and seems to take social responsibility somewhat more seriously than Facebook.”
Lidberg also underlined that the absence of paid, professional journalism on Facebook could lead to a vacancy which is filled by unchecked information and conspiracy theorists.
Why Could Facebook Take the Step It Did?
According to The Indian Express, Facebook informs that “news makes up less than 4 percent of the content people see in their news feed”.
Over the years, it has also been disinterested in news and its experience with the way engineered news feeds were strategised during the 2016 US presidential elections has made the platform stray away from turning into a large platform for news, the Indian newspaper noted.
In fact, in late January, the UK became the first country to access Facebook News, a tab within the Facebook app focused on featuring news from hundreds of leading news outlets. This can be seen as an effort to take news out of the home feed even more.
(With inputs from The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Indian Express)