Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Facebook Begins Restricting News Links for Australian Users and Australian Publishers Worldwide

Natalie Oliveri, reporting for 9 News in July:

Technology giants Google and Facebook will be required to negotiate with Australian media companies over payment for news content and notify them of algorithm changes under a mandatory code of conduct.

Today, this law was moved forward.

William Easton of Facebook:

Unfortunately, this means people and news organisations in Australia are now restricted from posting news links and sharing or viewing Australian and international news content on Facebook. Globally, posting and sharing news links from Australian publishers is also restricted. To do this, we are using a combination of technologies to restrict news content and we will have processes to review any content that was inadvertently removed.

This was stupidly framed by Matt Stoller as “bann[ing] the ENTIRE WORLD from getting Australian news content” and “censoring all of Australia”, which is a unique level of wrong and dumb.

Facebook’s response to this law differs from Google’s — the latter signed a bunch of agreements, including with News Corp, to pay publishers in exchange for showcasing their news. Facebook says that its relationship with publishers is different:

For Facebook, the business gain from news is minimal. News makes up less than 4% of the content people see in their News Feed. […]

Presumably, that means the remaining 96% is feed.

This is the biggest contemporary experiment in figuring out what it is like when publishers in one country no longer receive traffic from Facebook. It is unclear just how many clicks Facebook sends Australian news publishers. Facebook says it provided over five billion referrals last year, which obviously sounds like a lot, but that may be only a single-digit percentage of all news website visits in Australia.

Maybe this means that Australian Facebook users will become some of the best news consumers in the world because they will have to look elsewhere. They won’t rely on what Facebook thinks they want to see. It could be good for publishers, too, who will surely be happy to avoid Facebook’s algorithmic Jenga game.

But, if Facebook referrals are a significant amount of traffic to news websites, this law will have backfired in a quick and predictable way. Or, if Facebook detects “news” material imprecisely — which it will — it could permit the circulation of bullshit. The lies are free.