Tuesday 23rd of February 2021

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Last Thursday, Facebook decided to ban all Australians from viewing news on the social network. Here’s a quick recap of the situation (and why you should care about it). 

What happened? 
Australian lawmakers recently proposed that tech giants like Google and Facebook should pay publishers when their news content show up in search results or on social media. As a result, Facebook blocked Australian news providers from being seen in Australia and in the rest of the world, and also all Australians from seeing any news content. Google, on the other hand, decided to collaborate and already signed partnerships with some large Australian and international news publishers. The new law has not come into force yet, but the Australian government has been clear about it: they will not be backing down. More recently, the two parties found a middle ground as the legislation for the code has been amended this Tuesday 23rd of February. Facebook announced it will lift the ban in the “coming days”, based on the condition that the Australian government does not apply the new code to them. In return, the tech giant has to show it has signed deals similar to Google, in order to pay Australian media outlets for news content. So, is it the end of the Big Tech battle? Probably not. Facebook made it clear that they could ban news from Australia again, should the government later decide to apply the code to them.

What consequences in Australia? 
Some important information services got blocked as a result of the ban, preventing thousands of people from having access to health and emergency services. The move also goes against Facebook's latest commitment to reduce misinformation. Some fake news publishers have been left untouched. For example, despite calling himself a “journalist”, Yemini and his associated pages continue to post and grow his conspiracy movement against the coronavirus vaccine.

What implications in the UK?  
As far as we know, the UK is not at risk of having a similar ban (yet!). However, if the Australian example is seen as a success, it may encourage more countries to do the same, which could cause some serious disruption. Similar conversations are currently being held between the media and governments everywhere in the world, and Australia were just the first to bring in laws relating to it. British MP Julian Knight said "Facebook’s actions in Australia should be of great concern in the UK at a time when our own government is bringing forward legislation to regulate social media companies". For now, a new service whereby news stories will appear in a dedicated Facebook feed is currently being rolled out across the UK. The new feature called Facebook News is said to be supporting the news industry, and is the first of its kind outside of the US. So far it seems like an exciting partnership, Facebook has heavily invested in news publishers to bring curated news content to its platform, but this could also be perceived as a way for Facebook to avoid further regulations. 

What if?
We’ve all noticed these online newspapers asking for donations to survive. We all know that the news media industry is under financial pressure, relying largely on print sales and ad revenue, but the surge in ad blockers, and the global pandemic have complicated the already bleak outlook. News publishers are forced to find new ways to get some money coming in. Could it be the end of free news? What if we needed to pay to get access to quality content? This would eventually create a dramatic knowledge gap. Fortunately, we’re not there yet, but like Campaign, we feel like there is also a question about whether advertising agencies should have a responsibility to support journalism and the overall news media industry, especially during these uncertain times.

To be continued...


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