Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison vowed on Friday to press ahead with laws to force Facebook Inc to pay news outlets for content, saying he had received support from world leaders after the social media giant blacked out all media.
Facebook stripped the pages of domestic and foreign news outlets for Australians and blocked users of its platform from sharing any news content on Thursday, saying it had been left with no choice ahead of the new content laws.
The move, which also erased several state government and emergency department accounts, as well as nonprofit charity sites, caused widespread outrage.
Morrison, who blasted Facebook on its own platform for “unfriending” Australia, said on Friday the leaders of Britain, Canada, France and India had shown support.
“There is a lot of world interest in what Australia is doing,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
“That is why I invite … Facebook to constructively engage because they know that what Australia will do here is likely to be followed by many other Western jurisdictions.”
Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said late on Thursday his country would adopt the Australian approach as it crafts its own legislation in coming months.
The Australian law, which will force Facebook and Google to reach commercial deals with Australian publishers or face compulsory arbitration, has already been cleared by the federal lower house and is expected to be passed by the Senate within the next week.
Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he had spoken to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for a second time following the news blackout.
“We talked through their remaining issues and agreed our respective teams would work through them immediately. We’ll talk again over the weekend,” Frydenberg said in a tweet.
In its statement announcing the move in Australia, Facebook said the Australian law “misunderstood” its value to publishers. Frydenberg earlier told the Australian Broadcasting Corp that “there is something much bigger here at stake than just one or two commercial deals. This is about Australia’s sovereignty”.
Facebook and Alphabet Inc owned Google had campaigned together against the laws with both threatening to withdraw key services from Australia if the laws took effect.
Google, however, announced a host of preemptive licencing deals over the past week, including a global agreement with News Corp.
Facebook restored some government pages later on Thursday, but several charity, nonprofit and even neighbourhood groups remained dark.
WEB TRAFFIC SLUMPS
Facebook’s move had an immediate impact on traffic to Australian newsites, according to early data from New York-based analytics firm Chartbeat.
Total traffic to the Australian news sites from various platforms fell from the day before the ban by around 13% within the country and by about 30% outside the country, the Chartbeat data showed.
Similarly, traffic to the Australian news sites from Facebook alone plummeted from around 21% to about 2% within Australia, and from around 30% to about 4% outside the country.
News Corp Australasia Executive Chairman Michael Miller, testifying at an unrelated parliamentary hearing, confirmed the impact but said the number of Australians visiting the company’s websites directly had risen.
“Definitely referral traffic was nonexistent … while at the same time direct traffic to our websites was up in double digits,” he told the inquiry.
Miller also suggested antitrust regulator the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) should scrutinise Facebook’s move.
In related developments Canada vowed on Thursday to make Facebook Inc pay for news content, seeking allies in the media battle with tech giants and pledging not to back down if the social media platform shuts off the country’s news as it did in Australia.
Facebook blocked all Australian news content on its service over proposed legislation requiring it and Alphabet Inc’s Google to pay fees to Australian publishers for news links.
Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, in charge of crafting similar legislation to be unveiled in coming months, condemned Facebook’s action and said it would not deter Ottawa.
“Canada is at the forefront of this battle … we are really among the first group of countries around the world that are doing this,” he told reporters.
Last year, Canadian media organizations warned of a potential market failure without government action. They said the Australian approach would permit publishers to recover C$620 million a year. Without action, they warned, Canada would lose 700 print journalism jobs out of 3,100 total.
Guilbeault said Canada could adopt the Australian model, which requires Facebook and Google to reach deals to pay news outlets whose links drive activity on their services, or agree on a price through binding arbitration.
Another option is to follow the example of France, which requires large tech platforms to open talks with publishers seeking remuneration for use of news content.
“We are working to see which model would be the most appropriate,” he said, adding he spoke last week to his French, Australian, German and Finnish counterparts about working together on ensuring fair compensation for web content.
“I suspect that soon we will have five, 10, 15 countries adopting similar rules … is Facebook going to cut ties with Germany, with France?” he asked, saying that at some point Facebook’s approach would become “totally unsustainable”.
University of Toronto professor Megan Boler, who specializes in social media, said the Facebook action marked a turning point which would require a common international approach.
“We could actually see a coalition, a united front against this monopoly, which could be very powerful,” she said in a phone interview.
This week, Facebook said news makes up less than 4% of content people see on the platform but contended that it helped Australian publishers generate about AU $407 million last year.
Google has signed 500 deals worth around $1 billion over three years with publishers around the world for its new News Showcase service and is in talks with Canadian companies.
Guilbeault said Google would still be subject to the new Canadian new law, since Ottawa wanted an approach that was fair, transparent and predictable.
“What’s to say that Google – tomorrow, six months, a year from now – doesn’t change its mind and says its doesn’t want to do that any more?” he said.
Lauren Skelly, a spokeswoman for Google in Canada, declined to comment on Guilbeault’s remarks, saying the company did not know details of the legislation.
Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, said Canada should aspire to Google’s approach, where companies put money into content that provided added value.
“If we follow the Australian model … we’ll find ourself in much the same spot,” he said by phone. “Everybody loses. The media organizations lose … Facebook loses.”
Kevin Chan, head of public policy for Facebook in Canada, said there were “other options to support news in Canada that will more fairly benefit publishers of all sizes”.