news wars

The News Is Coming Back to Australian Facebook

Let’s make a deal. Photo: Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

After reaching an agreement with the Australian government, Facebook will restore the ability to post and share news links there in the coming days, ending a protracted standoff that resulted in the social-media giant pulling all such content from the site entirely.

The drastic move, instituted last week, was a reaction to an Australian draft law that would mandate social-media giants to reimburse news publishers for news material that appears on their platforms. For years, publishers have complained that Facebook and Google have eaten up ad revenue at the expense of journalistic profits, and the battle in Australia was seen as a preview of others to come around the world. It also set up a power struggle between two Information Age titans: Mark Zuckerberg and Rupert Murdoch.

The company and the Australian government agreed on amendments to the proposed legislation. Facebook will now have more time to negotiate with publishers before automatic payments are imposed by an arbitrator. Also, new language in the bill raises the possibility that if Facebook is deemed to be making “a significant contribution” to the country’s news industry, it could avoid the label of “digital platform” — thus avoiding the law’s regulations altogether.

In a statement, Campbell Brown, head of the company’s global-news-partnerships division, said, “As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days.” Still, the company made it clear that it could pull news links again if it was not satisfied with regulatory conditions in the future.

Google had also raised the prospect of disabling its search engine in the country as a result of the law. But it sees news as more central to its business model than Facebook does, and it quickly reached a deal with three news organizations in Australia, with the promise of more to come. Facebook, meanwhile, saw unanticipated consequences when it took its ball and went home. In the process of taking down publishers’ links, the site briefly also disabled links that contained information disseminated by politicians, meteorological organizations, and emergency health services, causing outrage. Misinformation also spread — even more than usual.

The News Is Coming Back to Australian Facebook