Australia Takes on Facebook: Who Won?

Months-long tug-of-war . . .

Australian news content will return to Facebook after the Australian government and Facebook reached a compromise on the country’s new media legislation, which is currently being debated in the Australian Senate. Both parties have been in a months-long public standoff over the new legislation, which will require web giants to negotiate commercial arrangements to license content published by media outlets. It also allows the government to "designate" the terms of such commercial deals if a social media platform and Australian media outlets fail to reach agreements. The spat reached a fever-pitch last week after Facebook blocked all Australian media domestically and internationally from its platform, while also restricting public-interest information such as emergency announcements, bushfire information, and hospital and pandemic information.

‘Re-friending’ Australia . . .

Tensions de-escalated as Australia and Facebook reached a last-minute compromise that addresses key concerns from the social media company and restores news content to the platform. The government has agreed to amend its legislation, allowing Facebook to decide which news appears on its platform and which news publishers to work with, avoiding forced negotiations. Australia’s government will also include a provision stipulating that Facebook and other digital platforms will not be subject to the code if they demonstrate they have signed agreements with news publishers paying them for their content.

Political messaging or good policy?

Canada has a stake in the outcome of Australia taking a hard line. Canada’s Heritage Minister, The Hon. Steven Guilbeault, has condemned Facebook’s blocking of Australian news and declared his support for similar legislation in Canada. Although many analysts believe the balance of power between governments and social media has tilted far too far toward the latter, allowing corporate interests to override public interest, others argue that such legislation fundamentally misunderstands how the internet works. Critics also point out that smaller, independent journalism will still lose out under the Australian legislation, as they are likely too small to reach agreements with internet giants. Independent journalism could be collateral damage if Canada decides to closely emulate Australia’s legislation.