Facebook tries to call Australia’s bluff on paying for news

In response to the threat of being forced to pay for news posted on its platform in Australia, Facebook has indicated it would rather just block it.

The Australian government has pledged to introduce legislation forcing internet platforms to pay a fee to the media when hosting their content on the platform. It’s not totally clear whether this refers to the entire piece being viewed on the platform or just summaries and links. This is important because the former would highjack traffic from the media, while the latter wouldn’t. But either way this seems like another attempt to redefine internet platforms as publishers.

“If there were no news content available on Facebook in Australia, we are confident the impact on Facebook’s community metrics and revenues in Australia would not be significant,” said Facebook in its response to the Australian proposal, as reported by the Guardian. Effectively, Facebook is telling the Australian government to do its worst and that it’s not afraid of the consequences.

There was also a fair bit of rhetorical push back on the pretext of the move, that internet platforms are competing unfairly with media, and some pouting about being singled out. This is a bit disingenuous as it can be proven that the vast majority of advertising revenue lost be the media over the last decade or two has moved to Facebook and Google. What has yet to be conclusively determined is how instrumental their hosting of media content is in that process.

To what extent this is a bluff from Facebook, or just part of the negotiating process, isn’t clear. But it would be interesting to what what happens if Facebook prevents news media content from being shown in Australia. We would probably never know how it affects Facebook revenues, but its effect on the fortunes of the media could be telling. Let’s find out.

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