SAN FRANCISCO – For months, Facebook and Google have been tightly controlled by news publishers and lawmakers in Australia.
At the heart of the battle is whether the tech giants should pay news organizations for articles shared on their networks. Under proposed law from the Australian Competition and Consumers Commission, both Google and Facebook will be required to negotiate with media publishers and compensate them for content appearing on their websites. .
Facebook and Google have been fighting hard to prevent Australian laws – expected to be passed this week or next – forcing them to get their hands dirty. But on Wednesday, the two companies made a clear distinction on how to begin that regulatory future.
Google started the day by announcing a three-year global deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp to pay for publisher news content, one of several such deals the company has. announced recently when it seems to effectively satisfy the publisher’s needs. Hours later, Facebook made the opposite decision and said it would restrict people and publishers from sharing or viewing news links in Australia, in a move that took effect immediately.
In the language of mediation for publishers, Don Harrison, Google’s president of global partnerships, says that the company has invested in helping news organizations over the years and they hope “To soon announce more partnerships.”
Facebook has a distinctly different tone. William Easton, executive director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, said of the draft Australian law: “The proposed law fundamentally misinterprets the relationship between our platform and the publishers who use it to share news content.
Divergences illustrate the different ways Facebook and Google approach news. For years, the two internet giants have treated publishers more or less in the same way. Both have little incentive to pay news outlets for content and argue, correctly, that they have helped attract so many readers to news stories that would otherwise not have been. pay attention on lightly trafficked websites.
But the continued decline in newspapers – in tandem with the billions of dollars that Google and Facebook earn from digital advertising – has raised questions about whether platforms are responsible for financial support. for publishers or not. In recent years, both companies began paying news organizations through various programs as criticism of misinformation on their platforms seemed to increase demand for quality press.
Currently, the situation in Australia has emphasized that the lockstep approach can only go so far because Facebook and Google ultimately rate news differently. Google’s mission statement has long been the world’s information organization, an ambition that would not have been achieved without minute-by-minute news. For Facebook, news is not the focus. Instead, the company positions itself as a network of users who come together to share photos, political views, internet memes, videos – and sometimes articles.
“Google is used to playing a different game in different countries,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of communications research at the University of Virginia, of different companies’ approaches. While he said Facebook is taking what it sees as an ethical stance, Google “may have gone beyond the imagination of a common approach to doing business around the world.”
Paul Fletcher, Australia’s Communications Minister, said the government will proceed to regulate the law even as conversations with Facebook continue.
In interviews, he praised Google for participating in the process and suggested that Facebook be scrutinized to decide to “remove all authoritative and trustworthy news sources from the background. platform. ” In an interview with 2GB radio, Mr. Fletcher added that the decision “inevitably raises issues of the reliability of information on the platform”.
The Australian Competition and Consumers Commission, the country’s leading competition agency, has spent the past year drafting a bill for the Australian Parliament that requires Facebook and Google to negotiate with media publishers and pay for content for them. The law includes a code of conduct that allows media companies to personally or collectively agree with digital platforms about the value of their news content.
Google and Facebook consider the proposed law a worrying precedent. As negotiations on the proposal continued throughout 2020, both companies openly said that they might have to resort to more drastic measures against it.
In August, Facebook said it would block Australian users and news organizations from sharing local and international news stories on its social networks and Instagram if the bill goes ahead. Last month, Google also threatened to stop offering its search engine in Australia if the government approved the law.
But in recent weeks, Google has sought to reduce the impact of the proposed law by making deals with media companies like Reuters and The Financial Times. Last year, Google said it would commit to paying $ 1 billion in license fees over three years to news publishers for content displayed in Google’s News page, as well as Discover, news feed. appears in Google’s mobile search app.
Google’s deal on Wednesday with Mr. Murdoch’s News Corp was particularly notable. The two have shown a public hatred of each other for years, since the early days of search engines.
In 2009, Mr. Murdoch threatened to remove News Corp’s articles from Google, accusing the internet giant of stealing its content. Google has long suspected that Mr. Murdoch and News Corp have instigated increasing antitrust scrutiny in Washington and among state attorneys general, according to current and former Google directors.
Under the agreement of the two companies, Google agrees to pay News Corp to use its news content without disclosing a specific market or dollar amount.
But the search giant has failed to admit a key bottom line in previous negotiations, according to two people familiar with the deal. The deal doesn’t seem to cover paying for links and excerpts of news stories that appear in general search results, Google’s main source of power.
In a press release claiming the victory for a “bizarre quest” to ask Google to pay for news, News Corp also said the deal included developing a subscription platform and investing in video journalism. of YouTube, a subsidiary of Google.
Facebook’s decision on Wednesday was in line with its previous statements blocking news links in Australia. This move could be deeply troubling for Australians, with publishers no longer able to share or post any content from their Facebook pages and users unable to view shared articles. on Facebook by overseas publishers.
In Australia, Facebook’s news ban appears to have been launched by accident. The news sites worked and then went inactive, with error messages for some users and the post thread disappearing for others.
But by 9 a.m. in Sydney, the impact was clear and even more widespread than the Facebook claims had suggested. In addition to news publishers being blocked, the New South Wales Fire and Rescue pages, Meteorological Bureau and state police departments were all wiped out. Even state government pages with public health information about the pandemic were blocked, causing outrage from many officials and lawmakers including South Australian Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.
In a statement, Facebook’s Mr. Easton said that the social network has been of great help to the media industry and that publishers would not be able to increase revenue in the same way without the support of the company. .
“The exchange of value between Facebook and publishers is beneficial for publishers,” he said. “Last year, Facebook generated about 5.1 billion free referrals for Australian publishers worth an estimated AU $ 407 million.”
Josh Frydenberg, Australian Federal Treasurer and Liberal Party Deputy Leader, said in a tweet that he and Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, had a “constructive discussion” on Wednesday.
They will continue to “try and find a way forward,” said Frydenberg.
Katie Robertson Contribution reports.