Checkmate

Facebook bans news in Australia: a convenient "no politics" experiment?

Friday, February 19, 2021 by Robinhood Snacks | Disclosures

No more doom-scrolling?... Last year, Australia proposed a bill to address power imbalances between the news media and digital platforms (read: Google and Facebook). The solution: force Google and FB to pay news outlets for displaying and linking to their content. The proposed law is expected to pass next week.

  • Google responded by making payment agreements with Australian publications, including News Corp.
  • Facebook responded by banning news in Australia. This week, FB announced that it'll no longer allow Australians to share or view news content. Woah.

Stick to the baby panda videos... and forget the breaking news on the Vegemite shortage. FB has banned all news-related links in Australia, including stories from international publishers. Also: FB users worldwide can't share or view news stories from Australia. The aggressive move could backfire if users see it as a dangerous threat to free expression. For now, it's mainly bad news for publishers:

  • Hot off the press: News outlets used to make $$$ selling papers filled with ads. When everything went digital, so did their ads. But Big Tech ads attract much more spend since they're targeted and have wider reach.
  • Hot off the feed: In 2019, 52% of Americans got their news on Facebook. And FB got all the $$$ from the surrounding ads. But Facebook says publishers shouldn’t complain, because FB drives traffic to their sites.
THE TAKEAWAY

This could be convenient for Facebook... By rejecting Australian news, it's setting a money-saving precedent. But it's also embarking on a nationwide experiment. FB has received massive heat for circulating polarizing content and fake news. CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently said that people don't want politics to take over their feeds. In Australia, FB has the chance to run a no-political-news experiment. If "no news" boosts earnings or user happiness in Australia, FB could expand it. If it hurts ad sales or engagement, FB might pull a Google and pay up.