Facebook-Australia standoff may have turned a corner

ICYMI: Facebook unfriended Australia this week after the government there proposed a legal code that would allow Australian news publishers to charge tech companies to use their content in search results and news feeds. Facebook responded by blocking users there from viewing or sharing news content on its platform. 

In a blog post February 17, William Easton, Facebook’s managing director for the Australia & New Zealand region, took a “this hurts you more than it hurts us” attitude to the affair, enumerating the restrictions Facebook intends to put in place as well as their consequences to both publishers and users of the platform. To sum up: “People and news [organizations] in Australia are now restricted from posting news links and sharing or viewing Australian and international news content on Facebook,” Easton wrote. 

Back to the table post-ban. The faceoff may have turned a corner, as Josh Frydenberg of Australia’s Treasury department said he spoke with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Friday about continuing the conversation over the weekend.

As of this writing, the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code has not been passed pending further negotiations between the Australian government, tech companies, and media outlets, the most notable of which is Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. 

News Corp Australia Executive Chairman Michael Miller said that referral traffic from the platform disappeared Thursday, while “direct traffic to our websites was up in double digits,” a Time-Warner news outlet in the region reported.

PSAs caught in Facebook’s collateral damage. Facebook’s block includes not only news organizations but also Australian government websites including a weather service and a state health agency. Facebook said that the sites were inadvertently blocked because the proposed measure did not define “news content” clearly enough.

Response elsewhere has been more tempered. For its part, Google responded to the proposed legislation by beginning negotiations directly with news outlets including News Corp.

Response across the media industry and governments appears to come down on the side of the government: “The code is necessary to ensure that journalism, content producers and news media are fairly paid by giants Google and Facebook that profit from the content,” Luke Taylor, COO and founder of Perth, Australia-based ad fraud mitigation solution TrafficGuard, said in a statement Thursday. “It comes down to all media outlets having a say in how their intellectual property is managed and fair compensation for independent journalism.” 

Why We Care: What does it mean for marketers that live downstream from news sites? And if Facebook can thumbs-down an entire continent’s move to support parity between tech giants and news publishers, what’s to stop them from blocking similar efforts in other sectors or countries? Marketers may benefit from developing solutions that offer a detox from dependence on tech monoliths and walled gardens. 

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