Background: On February 17, the Australian authorities passed a bill that requires technology companies to pay for the use of media news in their services. Companies must either negotiate with the media themselves or be forced to do so by regulators. Facebook and Google were the first to fall under the law. In response, the companies threatened to leave Australia altogether, but Facebook decided to act harshly and forbade users from Australia to share the news.

The law was designed to address the loss of advertising revenue to traditional media in favor of IT corporations. Of every $100 spent on online advertising in Australia, $53 goes to Google, $28 goes to Facebook and only $19 goes to others, according to the Guardian.

The bill was discussed for three years, of which 1.5 years were spent investigating the “power imbalance” between the media and online platforms. By 2020, the new rules had become more relevant, as even the oldest regional print newspapers began to close in the midst of the pandemic.

Australia’s bill is considered the most sweeping reform of the relationship between media and Internet platforms, according to Reuters. Its adoption may become a precedent for other countries wishing to strengthen the regulation of technology giants.

First Response in January: Facebook ‘Unfriends’ Australia

Facebook reacted negatively and harshly to the Australian bill: in January, the tech giant warned that it would stop operating in the country if the law was passed. Representatives of the company believed that the law was unfair and would make their work in Australia unviable.

After the bill was passed Facebook banned media and users from Australia from sharing news. 

At the time, the tech giant deemed it wrong not only when users did post fake, discriminatory information, buy Facebook followers, and violate other platform rules. Attempts to repost media news were viewed in the same way. The Australian residents couldn’t post links to local and international news, and users in other countries couldn’t post links to materials from Australian publishers.

William Easton, Facebook’s managing director in Australia and New Zealand, said that the bill misunderstands the relationship between the social network and publishers. He noted that Facebook helps the media make money. For Facebook, however, profits from news are minimal – they make up less than 4 percent of the content people see in their feed, Easton said.

One Week Later: Facebook ‘Refriends’ Australia

After a week-long blackout, Facebook decided to lift restrictions on the distribution of news content in Australia after the country’s authorities agreed to make a number of changes. 

“We’re pleased that we’ve been able to reach an agreement with the Australian government and appreciate the constructive discussions we’ve had with Treasurer Frydenberg and Minister Fletcher over the past week,” said William Easton in his statement online on February 22, adding that Facebook is ‘satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees … 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.”

The Australian government has proposed four amendments to the law. Key among them are: 

  • The government will take into account commercial deals between Facebook, Google and the media.
  • The platforms and publishers will be given two months to conclude a cooperation agreement.

The agreement was reached after talks between Frydenberg and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. 

“Going forward, the government has clarified we will retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook so that we won’t automatically be subject to a forced negotiation,” Facebook Vice President of Global News Partnership Campbell Brown said in a statement online.

So, friends forever now?