In a blog post attributed to Will Easton, MD of Facebook for Australia & New Zealand, the company has threatened to prevent the sharing of news content if Australia's proposed law that aims to force Facebook, Google and other tech platforms to compensate news publishers goes through.
"Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram," Easton wrote in the post, dated yesterday (August 31). "This is not our first choice—it is our last. But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector."
The draft code from the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) covers not only a process for negotiating payments but also several other areas the tech platforms have objected to strenuously, such as a requirement to notify news publishers about algorithm changes in advance.
While stressing that the company shares Australia's goal of supporting struggling news organisations, Easton described the draft code as a counterproductive solution to that issue.
"The proposed law is unprecedented in its reach and seeks to regulate every aspect of how tech companies do business with news publishers," he wrote. "Most perplexing, it would force Facebook to pay news organisations for content that the publishers voluntarily place on our platforms and at a price that ignores the financial value we bring publishers.
In the first five months of 2020, Easton said, Facebook sent 2.3 billion clicks from Facebook’s News Feed back to Australian news websites at no charge, claiming this traffic to be worth an estimated AU$200 million to Australian publishers.
The company already invests millions of dollars in Australian news businesses and, during discussions over this legislation, offered to invest millions more, he added. "We had also hoped to bring Facebook News to Australia, a feature on our platform exclusively for news, where we pay publishers for their content," the post said. "Since it launched last year in the US, publishers we partner with have seen the benefit of additional traffic and new audiences."
As these proposals "were overlooked", Facebook is "left with a choice of either removing news entirely or accepting a system that lets publishers charge us for as much content as they want at a price with no clear limits", Easton wrote. "Unfortunately, no business can operate that way."