Around the country millions of Australians woke to discover blank Facebook news and brand pages today with the tech giant’s drastic response to the proposed News Media Bargaining Code. 

While information is limited at this stage, with most news stemming from this blog post by Facebook’s Australian Managing Director, Will Easton, there are some key take-outs from the announcement worth sharing, in terms of how it impacts the use of social media in communications programs.  

Here’s what these changes mean: 

News publishers 

  • Effective immediately, all content from news publishers have been removed from Facebook in Australia. 
  • Links to news articles can no longer be viewed or shared on the platform. 
  • International news publishers’ content will no longer be viewable or shareable in Australia. 
  • To do this, Facebook is using a combination of technologies to restrict news content and will have processes to review any content that was inadvertently removed. 

Brand pages 

  • For the most part, brand pages in general will be unaffected by the move. Historical posts sharing news links appear unchanged for now, but we may see these removed in time. 
  • Chatter on another popular platform, Twitter, suggests a number of non-news sites have had all posts removed (as at 18/2). While no solution has been offered as yet, it appears this has been a result of Facebook implementing the rule, and will likely revert after some time.  

Influencer content 

  • Influencer accounts are currently still active on Facebook. 
  • Influencer reposts on brand pages are also still visible at this stage. 

Owned content 

  • At this stage, it appears owned content (web links to site, blogs etc) is still viewable and shareable on Facebook for Australian users. 

Audiences 

  • From today, Australian users on Facebook will not be able to view or share news content. This includes both Australian and international news content.
  • International Facebook users will no longer be able to view or share Australian news content. 

Instagram 

  • There is currently no update as to whether this will affect content shared on Instagram.  
  • Posts from Australian news publishers’ Instagram pages are still visible and have not been affected at this stage. 

The Facebook platform generally 

  • This has been an ongoing point of debate since the legislation was introduced. Facebook maintains that news content makes up a very small percentage of content in a news feed, and is not a significant source of revenue for the company. 
  • However, engagement with news content on social media skyrocketed last year due to the bushfires and the COVID pandemic. It will be interesting to see how many Australian users begin to abandon the platform as a result of losing a primary news-discovery tool.
  • IMPACT will keep a close eye on Facebook user numbers in Australia in coming months.

So, is this a stunt, or here for good?

UPDATE

With a turnaround almost as quick as the initial move, the Morrison government has announced a series of amendments to the Media Bargaining Code, prompting Facebook to repeal their ban on news content on the platform.

The amendments, reportedly made in consultation with Facebook following their decision last week, are an attempt to address the regulatory requirements that the social media giant says forced its hand last week.

The new amendments allow more flexibility for platforms and publishers to come to an arrangement, both in terms of commercial value, and how long they have to agree on it.

When determining commercial value, negotiations will be required to take into consideration a social media platform’s broader contribution to the sustainability of Australian journalism. It remains to be seen whether initiatives like Facebook’s funding boost in 2019 for small publishers to create video content for Facebook Watch, or launching Facebook News, a service being trialled in other countries, will count as an investment in Australian journalism under the amendment.

Ultimately, for brand pages we will see a return to normal. That’s not to say there won’t be changes to Facebook’s practices under the legislation, however, for the time being activity on Facebook will be as it was a week ago, with no restrictions on sharing news content.

The release from Josh Frydenberg’s office that outlines the amendments can be found here.

Meanwhile, Facebook has announced they are satisfied with the changes made, saying it better allowed platforms like Facebook to strike deals that recognised the value they offer to local publishers.

As always, the IMPACT team will be closely watching and provide updates as they appear.