Facebook’s shock move against Aussie users
Multibillion-dollar tech giant Facebook has rejected large parts of a proposal to pay Australian media organisations for using their content, saying it could easily remove all news stories from its platform without "impact on Facebook's community metrics and revenues in Australia".
The social network made the shocking statement in a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which has been tasked with developing a bargaining code between multinational tech firms, including Facebook and Google, and Australian media organisations.
But experts said Facebook's claims did not stack up, and the argument was designed to avoid setting an international precedent that would see tech giants pay for news they used.
Development of a mandatory code to "address bargaining power imbalances" between Australian media and tech giants - one of the key recommendations of the ACCC's 18-month investigation into Digital Platforms - was fast-tracked in April after declining economic conditions during the coronavirus pandemic hit local news organisations hard.
An ACCC spokeswoman said the authority would release a draft code for public consultation next month.
But in its submission, Facebook argued millions of news stories created by Australian publishers and shared on its platform did "not drive significant long-term commercial value for our business".
"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 because news content is highly substitutable and most users do not come to Facebook with the intention of viewing news," the submission read.
The tech giant did not oppose a bargaining code outright but argued the ACCC should treat social networks differently, exclude WhatsApp and Instagram from any code, should not ask Facebook to share user data with publishers, and said Facebook and Google had been singled out unfairly.
"Even if there is indirect value to digital platforms from news content, it is not healthy nor sustainable to expect that two private companies, Facebook and Google, are solely responsible for supporting a public good and solving the challenges faced by the Australian media industry," it said.
Despite Facebook's arguments, Pew Research last year found 55 per cent of US adults "often" got their news from Facebook's platform; an annual increase of eight per cent.
Swinburne digital media senior lecturer Dr Belinda Barnet said Facebook's argument did not hold up to scrutiny, particularly as the company had showed off plans to add a news section to its platform.
"The vast majority of what users share and post on Facebook concerns current events or is news content itself," she said. "And this is why Facebook have plans to dedicate an entire tab to news. Why would they do that if they were not generating revenue out of the time spent consuming news on their platform?"
Dr Barnet said Facebook and Google also received significant indirect benefits from using Australian news as it made the platforms "more sticky," kept users spending time with them, and gave the companies more data points on users that they employed to sell advertising.
"They're going to fight this hard because it would create a precedent for other countries to pursue revenue-sharing," she said. "I think Facebook is going to have a harder time making the argument that they don't get revenue from news content. The sheer amount of news that users post on Facebook is a huge reason why people stay there."
Facebook and Google's submissions to the ACCC also come after the recently closure of many Australian news outlets including 10 Daily, BuzzFeed Australia, and 125 regional print newspapers.
Originally published as Facebook's shock move against Aussie users