Why Facebook Blocked Australian News Sites

Originally published at: Why Facebook Blocked Australian News Sites - TidBITS

Mike Masnick of TechDirt explains why everyone is mad at Facebook for cutting off links to Australian news sites, even though Australian publishers accused Facebook of taking advantage of them by linking to them.

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Ah, gotta love The Onion.


Add this on to Apple’s Nutrition Labels, and I think Facebook and Google better fasten their seatbelts; they are in for a rocky ride.

A great article, since it references what may be the oldest Internet meme. I remember reading USENET articles about why Australia doesn’t exist back before there was a web.

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I don’t generally defend Facebook but I think that are right on this one. I’ve been waiting for a company when faced with a questionable government regulation to just decide to forego the business in that country and see if the regulation survives any pushback that might come from citizens upset with the result.

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Funny, it’s the opposite for me. IMHO it’s high time democratically elected governments start showing some muscle and remind people like Zuck who sets the rules. If a private company cannot abide by those rules, they can take a hike. Australians will soon learn that they can do just fine without a privacy-flouting grifter middleman and get their news straight from the source. Good for them. :+1:


Not sure that it’s better that Rupert Murdoch uses his clout with the ruling party to set the rules instead. This was not a regulation imposed because the people of Australia were clamoring for it, that’s for sure.

So that’s what I was saying - I’d love to see Facebook just “take a hike” and refuse to work at all in Australia. Maybe Australia will be better off for it; maybe Australians will decide it’s better to live without Facebook (and Instagram and WhatsApp and Messenger, etc.) Maybe they won’t. As I hinted, Facebook doesn’t make it easy to defend them, but we’ve seen in the US what happens when media companies have too much power with our elected government and use that power to get the government to set rules and regulations that benefit themselves at the expense of what is better public policy - we get for-profit corporate news consolidation, often presented with political bias, without competition in many markets. Write a regulation that prevents Facebook, Google, et. al., from scraping or providing news snippets without links to the original material - maybe that makes sense. But when they actually provide links to the source material so users can click through to read the article - is that really harmful to the news sources?


I’d say if Australians think Murdoch has too much clout they will be free to vote out the currently ruling party. As they have in the past. But the crucial point IMHO is they remain in the driver seat. Zuck doesn’t get to dictate terms. He might get away with that here in the States where he apparently can buy himself enough politicians on both sides of the aisle, but now in Australia he is being shown his limits. Hooray for their system.

And as you say, he is actually not leaving. He decided rather than take a hike he is going to abide by the change in regulation. So let’s note he is being forced to do exactly what regulation intends. He’s chosen to stop linking to content he doesn’t want to pay for. Of course his gamble here is Australians won’t like having to go outside of Facebook for news and will therefore pressure their lawmakers to back down. He’s free to hope for that. Just as the Australian public is free to call him out for his blatant attempt at blackmail. But the crucial point here is that the people of Australia get to determine the set of rules used to govern their market instead of being blackmailed into doing something which goes against their own interests. Of course this is all just IMHO.


I know, damn it! I was all poised to think Australia was acting sensibly, but the details are ridiculous.

I do think that a lot of ad money is collected on the backs of editorial sites. There should be some method by which content that generates ad dollars on search engines and social networks would automatically flow some back to the creating sites (or people). This ain’t it!


It’s not been clear what, exactly, the new Australian law is really about.

If we’re talking about social media/search engines republishing content (e.g. including large quotes from an article) without permission, that’s a violation of copyright. I don’t know what kind of threshold Australia has for “fair use” (if any), but any content beyond that threshold should require permission to republish.

If, on the other hand, we’re just talking about linking to content, that’s completely different. Readers don’t get to see the content without clicking through to the original publisher’s site, and the publisher can control access there (e.g. via paywalls) if they want.

But I think that in either case, the idea of the government mandating payment is nuts. If there is copyright violation taking place, then the copyright holder can sue, and the law should be such that there is a reasonable chance of success. And if there isn’t any copyright violation taking place, then where are the damages?

So far, this all seems like a bunch of mega-corporations trying to manipulate the Australian government in order to gain leverage over each other and the government is being played like a fiddle in this sparring match.

Look at what’s happening in Europe for some guidance.

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That’s very much my take as well.

When I read the Gizmodo article about how Facebook accidentally blocked its own page as well, I couldn’t resist commenting to some of my Aussie friends, “This is brilliant! How do we get Facebook to block all news and itself in the US too? :-)”

But yeah, the link tax is seriously problematic without going full Ted Nelson and having bidirectional links and micropayments associated with transcluded data, a la Project Xanadu in Computer Lib/Dream Machines. It will never happen, so linking needs to remain free.

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That’s a really optimistic take on how the politics of this works.


Murdoch is a piece of work. There was a fascinating profile of his empire—and the situation with his two sons, which has evolved since, with James distancing himself—in the New York Times Magazine about two years ago.

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I think this take from Steven Levy of Wired is pretty clear about what’s going on and how it’s the wrong way to attack the issue of Internet companies ‘stealing’ the economic underpinning of journalism.

Displaying source material is the big issue here, not just the link. Facebook and Google use the info they gain from the clicks to more precisely target their advertising; it’s a huge revenue stream for them. Coming from a decades long background in publishing and media, I’m very aware of how expensive it is for news companies to fund newsrooms and field journalists and crews.

Think about how many newspapers, magazine, newsletter, book, etc. companies have folded over the last few decades because they lost advertising and subscription revenue. I live in a large apartment building in New York City, and when I moved here just about every apartment on the floor got at least one newspaper delivered to their door every day. Now my husband and I just get the New York Times. Hardly anyone in the building gets a newspaper delivered at all.

I think that because Google just delivers a link to a particular search; it doesn’t display text or comments about the link displayed in searches, they are more amenable to cutting a deal with publishers. Facebook makes a lot of money placing ads that are targeted to content appears on particular pages,

And Rupert was even more active in distancing himself from James.

For what it’s worth, the article is behind a firewall. (I have News+ so was able to read it.)

Like I said - then regulate how much of a snippet can show.

(I just looked at my FB feed. It was hard to find a news link, but the two I found were just small snippets or just the headline and a photo from the article with links to open the full article, yes, redirected through a FB short link, but eventually at the source. I know that Twitter links are the same.)

Think about how many farriers and blacksmiths folded after automobiles became popular. I still get a daily newspaper, and read it every day cover to cover, but I get why they are not so popular anymore - it’s literally yesterday’s news. Also I believe that Craigslist and Monster.com (and other online job listing sites) have quite a bit to do with the loss of newspaper ad revenue. Or, I should say that the loss of ad revenue and circulation is a lot more complicated than saying that it was caused by Google search and Facebook and Twitter link snippets (or the rise of radio news and tv news in the early to mid 20th century.)

This is not about the entire Internet. Any one of us is free to still publish all the links we want in Australia, just as any Australian citizen is free to publish all the links they want to my pages.

This is about huge quasi-monopoly corporations like FB or Google that have grown fat off of the work of others and are using that heft to spread and dominate. These guys are now being ordered (in Australia) to abide by different rules than the rest and that’s quite OK because they have in their respective markets become a de facto monopoly. There are essentially no more market forces left to reign them in. Now who’s fault that is is an entirely different story, but fact is, FB customers cannot vote with their feet. It’s essentially FB or nothing. So now FB gets special treatment. That doesn’t affect “the internet” or regular Joes like you and me, it primarily affects FB’s outlook and bottom line. And I sure won’t be losing any sleep over that.

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Since I subscribe Wired, I’ve been able to change the link (both here and in the original message) to make the article visible to all.