In the face of an Australian bill that would force it to pay publishers for the news content that surfaces on its platform, Facebook last week made a dramatic move. On Wednesday night, it pulled all news from its platform Down Under. After several days of discussion between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Australia’s treasurer Josh Frydenberg, the social media giant has committed to end the standoff and bring news back to its platform Down Under.
“The government has been advised by Facebook that it intends to restore Australian news pages in the coming days,” Frydenberg said in a statement Monday.
Facebook will bring news back to Australia not out of generosity, but rather because it says it got sufficient concessions from the Frydenberg and Australian Communications Minister Paul Fletcher. The Australian government has pledged to make changes to the News Media Bargaining Code, the aforementioned bill that when enshrined as law will force Facebook and Google to pay news publishers, following discussions with Zuckerberg and Facebook executives.
Facebook’s blockade meant that, since last Wednesday night PT time, news has vanished from the platform in Australia. Brand pages for outlets like CNET or The New York Times went completely blank, while users were restricted from posting news content if they tried. The feeds of Australia’s 11 million users have been completely bereft of news. It was a scattershot approach for Facebook, with multiple non-news pages, like the Bureau of Meteorolgy and South Australia Health, also having their pages wiped clean.
Under the proposed bill, Facebook and Google would be made to negotiate with local publishers over payment for the news content that surfaces on Facebook’s feed and Google’s search. Publishers would also need to be given advanced notice of changes to algorithms that would affect how their content is ordered and prioritized. After balking in February and threatening to pull search out of Australia, Google has since made several big-money deals with publishers. That includes Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and local giant Nine Entertainment, two of the biggest companies to lobby for the bill.
In a press release, Frydenberg listed some of the ammendments the government has agreed to make to the News Media Bargaining Code. The first states the code “must take into account whether a digital platform has made a significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry through reaching commercial agreements with news media businesses.”
In other words, Facebook is hoping that if it cuts enough deals with local publishers it could shield itself from being designated one of the “digital platforms” the bill targets.
“As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days,” said Campbell Brown, head of Facebook’s Global News Partnerships division, in a statement.