Australia and Facebook Tussle Over Handling of News

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During the 2016 US Presidential Election, the term “fake news” was thrown around a lot. Facebook’s role at the center of spreading misinformation has been widely criticized by regulators and governments. It only makes sense that Facebook would have an interest in controversial content: it drives engagement, after all.

However, the social media site’s role in polarizing news has landed it in hot water with numerous regulatory bodies. The latest trouble the company has found itself in involves the Australian government, revolving around how it pays publishers of news when those articles appear on Facebook.

Australia Deal Keeps News on Facebook

News article are a big drivers of engagement on Facebook’s platform. As such, it makes sense that regulators would want the company to pay publishers a fee when their content appears on Facebook. However, the social media giant was less than pleased with the suggestion that there be a compulsory fee that is paid to any news publisher who has content appear on Facebook. Facebook maintains, however, that news articles only drive about 4 percent of the site’s traffic.

In order to avoid compulsory payments, the company reached a deal with the Australian government that worked as a compromise. The company can continue hosting news content without paying a compulsory fee, but it will need to work out individual agreements with each publisher to avoid the ire of the Australian government.

Time to Negotiate

Campbell Brown, the vice president of Facebook’s global news partnerships, issued a statement on the agreement Tuesday. “We appreciate the government has created flexibility to move forward making deals with publishers, while giving us 30 days’ notice before a designation.”

Now, the company has time to work out individual agreements with the news publishers who appear on their site. This 30 day window is essentially a trial period for the company to prove that it can abide by the new rules. Should the Australian government be unsatisfied with the results of this trial, they could simply ban news from the site altogether.

It is worth noting that many news outlets greatly rely on the delivery of audiences from Facebook, or from Google’s web search service, making this as important for them as for Facebook. For many outlets, without Facebook driving users to their sites, they might see a stark drop-off in daily visitors, meaning that these outlets will be incentivized to work with Facebook in making the new Australian provisions work.