Ever since the pandemic started, my family temporarily stopped its newspaper subscription. Not that I noticed. For quite some time now, I’ve been getting my news updates online. Often, I get them faster than my parents, who usually get theirs from the papers.
However, if you’re based in Australia (which you probably are if you’re reading this), you might have noticed something of a news blackout over the past week.
If you already know why, you can skip to the last part of this article. Otherwise (and if you’d like to know), read on, mate.
Facebook Vs. The AU Government: How The Feud Started
Recently, the Australian federal government proposed a new law, which is the news media code. This law, which had been in development for three years, basically requires media giants like Facebook and Google to compensate publishers for news articles posted on their platforms. Not doing so would result in substantial penalties.
As I understand it, the AU government drafted the law to address what is perceived to be a gross imbalance in the digital news realm. For years, Facebook and Google have benefitted from packaging and displaying links to journalists and publishers the world over. Unfortunately, this has supposedly led to a duopoly. This, in turn, caused publishing revenues to drop as well as tens of thousands of journalism layoffs.
Obviously, Facebook and Google balked at such a deal. Google initially threatened to pull out of Australia, but eventually caved.
On the other hand, Facebook took a more drastic approach. As of Thursday last week, it effectively banned Australian users from posting, sharing, or even seeing news content on its platform. Currently, the ban blocks links to Australian publishers and users Down Under won’t be able to see content from both local and international news outlets.
Facebook reasoned that it offers more benefits to news outlets than it receives. Apparently, news content accounts for less than 4% of what people see in their feeds. Facebook, meanwhile, delivered over 5.1 billion clicks to Australian news websites in 2020 alone.
What Are The Consequences?
However, the social media giant ended up inadvertently over-blocking pages as it tweaked its algorithms to meet the definition of “news.” Thus, the casualties included not just local and international news sites, but also state health departments, the West Australian fire and emergency services page, as well as several charities, and union pages. Some small businesses also found their pages blocked as well, and even Facebook Australia’s own page wasn’t spared in the aftermath.
The company did say that they were working on rectifying this, and some pages were reinstated shortly after, but quite a few remain in limbo. So far, Facebook has not announced a timeline for getting things sorted, and it could take a while before they do.
How Does Facebook’s News Ban in AU Affect Small-Medium Businesses Like Yours?
Obviously, Facebook’s decision is highly unpopular among many Australians, with many calling for a nationwide boycott. That’s understandable, considering how the timing couldn’t be worse. A news blackout amidst a global pandemic is very dangerous, and the social media giant could have blood on its hands as a result.
Now, how does it affect business owners like you? Let’s take a look.
It’s easier for individual users to think nothing of deleting their Facebook accounts permanently. That is not the case for small-medium enterprises (SME’s).
As we mentioned in previous articles, social media platforms are the one place where SME’s can level the playing field against bigger companies. Here, creating and sharing the right content can give a small-medium enterprise an edge over more powerful (i.e., richer) rivals.
Being unable to share news that is relevant to your customers can have a negative impact on some businesses. It’s especially worse if the new algorithms somehow blocked your business page (even if your industry is completely unrelated to the news).
Even worse, it might no longer be possible to share news articles to debunk myths or fake news about your company or products and services.
So, moving forward, many AU entrepreneurs might have to find alternative ways to engage with their customers online. They may also have to do the same for sharing or creating content that provides value to their audience.
For now, though, we will simply have to wait and see how this plays out.
Keep your wits about you, mates.