Explaining Australia’s Facebook news blackout
Something strange is happening in Australia. There’s a proposed new law there that would require big internet properties — basically, Google and Facebook — to directly pay news organizations for linking to their news.
In response, as my colleagues reported, Google cut a deal to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, one of Australia’s dominant news organizations. Facebook said it wouldn’t go along, and on Wednesday started blocking any links to news articles. (And a lot of not-news, too, including government information.)
Here are a few thoughts:
The opposite of an underdog: Google and Facebook are the ultimate big dogs, and everyone else — even Murdoch and the rest of Australia’s concentrated news media industry that pushed for this law — is an underdog by comparison, my colleague Damien Cave, based in Sydney, wrote.
Like their counterparts in many other countries, Australian media companies have complained for years that they weren’t being fairly compensated for the value their information provides to internet giants. But Australia is (so far) one of the few countries where the news media had the power and connections to make it happen.
Facebook and Google aren’t in lock step: Google sees news as essential to people who are hunting for information on its sites. Facebook sees itself as a hub for people to come together — and news articles are a relatively small part of the global conversation.
But it’s not just philosophy at work. Google may be betting that it’s cheaper and wiser to pay up in Australia — and maybe elsewhere — and avoid sparring with news outlets and the government. Facebook seems willing to fight. (It’s also possible that Facebook will reach a compromise, and news will return.)
An experiment in news without Facebook: Australia is an unwitting test lab for what happens to Facebook, news organizations and the public when Facebook is a news desert.