Will Facebook’s News Ban Backfire?

Will Facebook’s News Ban Backfire?
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Facebook outraged politicians, publishers and the public on Thursday, when it confirmed it would be making good on its promise to remove news content in Australia.

For many publishers, it will mean a significant drop in total web traffic overnight, while for many government organisations, brands and NGOs it has taken away a channel to communicate with customers and members.

So why did Facebook decide to take the nuclear option?

It was all about avoiding a global precedent.

Agreeing to the government’s News Media Bargaining Code here in Australia – which requires tech platforms to reimburse media outlets for news content – could leave the Zuckerberg-owned company vulnerable to similar legislation in other, more valuable, regions.

It’s also been suggested Facebook is still in talks with the government about a potential solution, which would suggest the news ban might be a short-term demonstration rather than a long-term strategy.

There’s also the fact that news does not play a significant role the Facebook business model.

Facebook Australia & New Zealand managing director William Easton revealed that news makes up less than four per cent of the content people see in their News Feed.

This would theoretically mean that the risk of advertisers moving away from Facebook is minimal, as the change should not significantly impact total traffic to the site.

According to Tug CEO and founder Nick Beck, however, advertisers will walk away not because of fewer eyeballs, but because of the way the company has handled itself.

“I don’t think advertisers will pull their budgets due to a concern of the quality of content. Facebook still has amazing targeting capabilities to reach your audience,” Beck told B&T.

“I believe Australian advertisers will pull their budget, and I’ve heard of many doing so today, because like the Australian public, they refuse to be bullied.”

Given the current high-profile dispute between Facebook and Apple over consumer privacy, which looks set to lead to an antitrust suit, Facebook is risking serious reputational damage with this latest move.

“I believe Facebook has misjudged the situation. The Australian public will not take kindly to being threatened so overtly,” Beck said.

“No matter what happens next, alongside their overt attacks on Apple for trying to improve consumer privacy, Facebook’s move will add to the growing sense, in Australia and globally, that they are the ‘worst bully’ of the tech giants.”

A year of Boycotts

If an advertiser boycott does ensue as a result of Facebook’s decision to remove news in Australia, it would come after another tumultuous year in the social media platform’s history.

Just last month, WhatsApp (which is owned by Facebook) triggered an exodus of users when it asked its 2 billion global users to accept a new privacy policy, which would allow the app to share data with Facebook.

The move sparked outrage among users and saw rival encrypted messaging services such as Signal and Telegram garner millions of new downloads instantly, as users looked for WhatsApp alternatives.

WhatsApp has since delayed the rollout of the privacy policy.

In light of the Black Lives Matter protests in July last year, Facebook was hit with a mass advertiser boycott as the #StopHateForProfit movement went into full swing.

The boycott saw more than 1,000 global companies, including Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Diageo remove advertising from Facebook.

And while any Facebook boycott in light of the news ban in Australia is unlikely to be this large, it is worth noting that “Delete Facebook,” “Boycott Zuckerberg” and “Facebook We Need To Talk” are all now trending across social media.

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