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Facebook has pulled the plug on news in Australia but what does that mean for PR?

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

You’ve probably seen it all over the news but as the country awoke yesterday (Thursday) morning there was one place you wouldn’t be seeing the news any longer – Facebook.

As part of the social media giant’s stand-off with the federal government over the proposed media bargaining laws, a ruling that would force major tech giants to pay Australian news outlets for their content, Facebook has blocked access to viewing or sharing news content from publishers' pages. Why does this matter to me?

This is a major stance for Facebook to take. Earlier this week, it was announced that Google was in talks with some of Australia's biggest news publishers to agree multi-million dollar deals which will see it pay publishers for use of their content within Google's news products.

Those deals will ensure Google can continue to operate under the government's new media bargaining provisions, until which point Google too was threatening to pull out of the Australian market entirely.

The Google deals have been welcomed by MPs, but Facebook, the only other company specified in the reforms, has opted not to adhere to the new rules.

What are people saying about it?

Ironically, it’s been one of the biggest news stories of the week. Everyone from journalists at news conglomerates and independent titles weighed in, alongside politicians and of course the wider internet community.

Paul Smith, technology editor at The AFR wrote “After years of pretending to recognise the importance of news and its role in the facilitation of community debates and events, Facebook has pulled the pin in Australia, with the message that its bottom line is much more important.”

Chris Griffith, technology reporter at The Australian wrote “Facebook‘s action to ban not only news sites in Australia but some health news services, weather, indigenous media, charity, and utility sites albeit inadvertently shows it is both unreliable and unworthy as a channel for supplying important information to the public.”

Women’s Agenda founding editor, Angela Priestley, wrote: “Unfortunately, this move by Facebook looks set to hurt smaller publications like ours the most, with consequences that will impact the overall diversity of Australia’s media sector, and therefore how we can access important news information, particularly on issues that are less regularly heard in the mainstream media.”

Scott Purcell, co-founder of independent publisher, Man of Many, said Facebook only made up less than 3% of his website’s overall traffic. “As a publisher [we] have always focused on mitigating any reliance on any one platform by growing our 'owned' audience such as our email newsletter. The decision is unlikely to impact upon Man of Many in any significant way but it will have a significant impact on many other smaller independent publishers who have been courted by Facebook to grow their audiences on the platform and consequently become very reliant on it to generate traffic,” he said.

And PM Scott Morrison labelled Facebook’s decision as “actions to unfriend Australia” that “were as arrogant as they were disappointing”, noting the social media giant had also cut off essential health and emergency services information pages.

Morrison said in a Facebook post: “These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them. They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it. We will not be intimidated by BigTech seeking to pressure our Parliament as it votes on our important News Media Bargaining Code. I encourage Facebook to constructively work with the Australian Government, as Google recently demonstrated in good faith.”

So what does it all mean for our PR strategy?

The changes only came into effect yesterday (Thursday) so we’re in the very early stages of seeing where and for how long this will go on, but for the time being you won’t see any trackable impact for a few weeks – by which point publishers' audience figures will show exactly if and how reader and viewer habits have changed.

Visitors find their stories from all manner of channels, be it directly through the publisher, via Google, Facebook, a myriad of mobile apps, TV, WhatsApp, private message groups, or even around the water cooler – the list goes on.

And while Facebook was a daily newsfeed for many Aussies, we’ll see them adapt to simply find their news from somewhere else.

This won't be the last we hear of it and much like with Google, both the Government and Facebook will have a lot more to say on the subject in the coming days.


Chris McGhee

Group Account Director

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