The Australia Institute Calls For National Facebook Advertising Suspension Until News is Restored

APRIL 8, 2018: Phone sitting on laptop with Facebook desktop site reflecting on screen. The social media giant's stock has dipped sharply since the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
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The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology has called for a national Facebook advertising suspension until news is restored across Australia.

According to an analysis by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology, Facebook continues to earn more than $2.5 million per day from paid digital advertising amid an Australian news ban that has also deprived access to hundreds of charity and advocacy websites.

According to the ACCC, Facebook is an advertising company with monopoly power in Australia, accounting for 28 per cent of all advertising spending.

After a windfall year in 2020 when its Australian advertising revenue rose to approximately $896 million as part of global revenue of $28 billion, Facebook has chosen to leave its advertising channels running through its news blackout.

One of Australia’s most influential public policy think tanks, the Australia Institute said Facebook had pursued an aggressive tax minimisation strategy, paying a reported $17 million tax in Australia despite advertising revenue of almost $700 million in 2019.

Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology, said Facebook’s Australian news blackout showed the tech company’s “enormous market power” and its “contempt for fact-based journalism”.

“That’s why all levels of government, from federal to local, civil society and business should review the amount of money they spend on Facebook and consider suspending further buys until Facebook returns news and civil society sites back to their network,” Lewis said in a statement.

“Many government and civil society pages were caught in the botched algorithmic dragnet last week. While some of them are back up, many of them are now in a process of re-applying for access to the site which may take weeks.”

Lewis added that the Centre for Responsible Technology recognised that some organisations had become wholly reliant on Facebook advertising to reach their audiences, due to Facebook’s market power.

For those who cannot suspend their advertising on Facebook, Lewis said, a broader review of this dependence is timely.

“Meanwhile, Facebook is happily harvesting millions in marketing and advertising revenue from these same organisations,” he said.

“We estimate the federal government currently spends around $20 million per year on the platform alone.

“Redirecting some of this spending to local and community news outlets would contribute to their viability.

“Australians are in a fight with one of the biggest and strongest companies on Earth, interrupting its flow of money is one thing government, business and civil society can do to stand behind our democratically elected representatives.”

The news comes as Health Minister Greg Hunt said neither his office or his department will advertise on Facebook after it blocked Australians from accessing news on its platform.

“I spoke to my office to make sure on Thursday that we were not doing that. I will check that my department is not but on my watch, until this issue is resolved, there will not be Facebook advertising,” Mr Hunt said on the ABC’s Insiders.

“I will reaffirm that with the secretary today but we’ve already done that with my office and I reaffirmed yesterday that there has been none commissioned or instituted since this dispute arose.

“I’ve got to say basically you have corporate titans acting as sovereign bullies and they won’t get away with it.”

It comes as Facebook was additionally forced to apologise for temporarily taking down a number of state public health accounts, charities and other government organisations, as retaliation for the Morrison government’s media bargaining code. The code is reportedly due to be legislated within days.

Featured image source: iStock/David Tran

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