Australian News Sites Shocked & Upset To Learn They Don't Need To Rely On Facebook For Traffic!

from the wait,-that's-possible?!? dept

I am still perplexed and confounded at how many people seem to think that Facebook is the one at fault for blocking links to news in Australia. Again, the law (that was about to be approved by the Australian Parliament despite Facebook warning them months ago that it would be forced to block news links if it went forward in its current form) would have been a disaster for the open web. And that’s even if you believe that Facebook itself has been a disaster for the open web. You can say that Facebook is the worst company in the world… and still recognize that this was the right move.

The law mandated that if Facebook had any links to news, then it had to negotiate a deal to pay certain news organizations (mainly Australia’s largest news organizations, where Rupert Murdoch is the dominant owner in a news industry that is one of the most consolidated in the world). If Facebook and Murdoch couldn’t reach an agreement, then they had to go to binding arbitration in which an arbitrator would simply tell Facebook how much it had to give Murdoch and other major media owners. Some have argued that this is not a tax, but… having the government step in to force a company to pay money for doing business is, by any normal definition, a tax. Though, this is actually worse than a tax, because it’s not putting the money into the hands of the government to be invested in public works. It’s going to one of the richest people in the world. For what? For failing to adapt to a changing market.

As we noted a few years ago, it’s truly stunning that Murdoch, who has spent much of his life going around the world preaching the gospel of “free market” and deregulation, completely changed his tune when he completely misunderstood the internet, and saw multiple internet investments disappear. So he turns around and demands that the companies who actually innovated simply have to give him money? That doesn’t sound like a free market. It sounds like welfare for a billionaire who’s upset he’s not even richer.

Even so, the most bizarre thing about last week’s story is how many Facebook haters who have insisted for years that Facebook “killed” the news business were absolutely apoplectic that Facebook was getting out of the news business entirely. You’d think they’d celebrate. Facebook can’t keep killing the journalism business if it’s not in that business any more.

The other bizarre reaction — which filled my Twitter feed to a point of ridiculousness for days — was the claim that Facebook was somehow “blocking important news” in Australia, including news about the pandemic and vaccines. Except… it wasn’t. No news was “blocked.” Just links to news on Facebook. All of these news organizations have websites. And many have apps. And they all still exist.

Indeed, the most amusing thing in all of this is that people in Australia are suddenly discovering that they don’t need Facebook for news. The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) saw its own news app shoot to the top of the Apple App Store charts in Australia. Ironically, the original draft of this stupid law was so biased towards Murdoch that it originally excluded ABC from getting any money, and was only added later, after some folks pointed out how blatantly corrupt it was to leave them out and just funnel more money to Murdoch. But it’s not just ABC that has benefited. In a Reuters story, News Corp’s executive chairman in Australia, Michael Miller, admitted that direct traffic to their websites was way up as referrals from Facebook disappeared:

?Definitely referral traffic was nonexistent … while at the same time direct traffic to our websites was up in double digits,? he told the inquiry.

That… seems like a good thing? But, of course, this was never actually about helping news organizations like this. It was always about the cash transfers. Because immediately after Miller admits that direct traffic to their websites is way up, he demands that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) “scrutinize Facebook’s move.”

I mean… what the fuck is going on here?

Rather than having Facebook mitigate your traffic, which is what you’ve been complaining about for years, the company has exited the space, leading to a massive jump in direct traffic. The reaction here shows pretty clearly that the problem is not Facebook. The problem is that News Corp. and other Australian news organizations are too lazy to actually do anything with all of this direct interest. Facebook just dumped a direct connection to users right in these news organizations’ laps — removing Facebook as a middleman — and the news organizations’ response is… to blame Facebook and try to get the Competition authority to go after them. For what? Helping them? This whole thing is so bizarre.

The same Reuters report notes that traffic from Facebook to Australian news sites plummeted after the ban, as you’d expect. But, again, isn’t that what all the Facebook haters wanted in the first place? To get Facebook out of the news intermediary business?

It seems the truth is pretty self-evident: this was all a greed play. They just want Facebook’s money, but they don’t want to actually do the work to earn it.

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Companies: abc, facebook, news corp

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Comments on “Australian News Sites Shocked & Upset To Learn They Don't Need To Rely On Facebook For Traffic!”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Bobvious says:

Re: welfare recipients

Clearly Facebook hasn’t been supplying (as many) welfare cheques to attend lunch with the PM, or other high ranking welfare recipients. I’m sure the relevant political parties supporting this proposed new law have been most grateful for the welfare to keep their coffers filled, and now they are returning the favour to ensure the gravy train keeps flowing.

And claims that Australia was brought to its knees by removing news links on an app that is not used by everyone, are pure blustering hyperbole of the most high grandiose order. I have it on good authority that life carried on as usual. Much like the hyperventilation about search engine dominance, where people have, and always had, the option to use another one, suddenly news wanters went to the ORIGINAL SOURCE of it, on the ACTUAL SOURCE websites.

And now that they have installed the apps, or stored the bookmarks, they can continue to get their news that way.

With the use of Adblockplus, or Ublock, Privacy Badger, Decentraleyes, and DuckDuckGo, I’m not sure that either Goole or Facebook make any ad-related revenue from my searches and surfing.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
William Null says:

Re: Re:

Agreed. And I think Masnick had misunderstood intentions of the news orgs here. They do not want Facebook out of NEWS business, they want Facebook out of business, period. As in, kaput, bankrupt, done for. They want the world pre-social media (as flawed as they are… seriously people, delete Facebook and get on Minds) where everyone got ALL of the news from newspapers and radio/tv. And where people can’t participate in the discussion, pointing out any bias. But that’s not going to happen. Freedom at any cost.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

From the nation that said their laws were stronger than the laws of mathematics….

Lets be very clear, this wasn’t about being fair.
This was about giving welfare to large corporations for failing to adapt the the internet. They don’t want to adapt to the internet, have no plans to adapt to the internet, & just expect they can demand law makers just be transferring money into their coffers.

There was great discussion on teh twitters about how news owned so many things & just ignored the internet & now cry its not fair & companies who put in the effort should pay them or be shuttered. I’d link to the person saying the important part… but yeah I’m in Twitmo again… Mike its the tweet about how they owned classified & something else & just ignored change.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And none of that works if you don’t have a cellphone.

I don’t have a cell number to give them, to get a code that proves its my cell number. Why/How having a cell number associated with me would change any fscking thing makes no sense, but then I think I’m an immortal sociopath and I am way more grounded than people in support.

Cause I guess bad actors can’t just get burners and bypass their stupid steps, but us poor folks can just FOAD until someone in support decides to actually read where I told them 15 times I don’t have a fscking cellphone.
Last time I tried one of them free webbased text services but they had that blocked.

So I can’t remove the offending tweet that was spreading covid misinformation by jokingly telling Mike that the people bashing the FB app store rating also believe that the vaccine contains microchips & someone will dial their death number on the 5G & Trump is the messiah…
(No really, user was suspended for this tweet o_O)

This of course has nothing to do with my current windmill I’ve been jousting to get a freind of mine unbanned for daring to say that a picture made them want to slap someone in the face.
Not an actual person, just a hypothetical person because the food photo upset her in some way so she responded to the person who shared it it made her want to slap someone in the face…
Promoting violence towards others.

About as intelligent as my first ban for promoting hatred towards others for calling myself faggot.

Or my second ban for triggering "bot detecting code"… 16 days to note I wasn’t a bot, I was very angry, & no I don’t have a cell phone number to give you because I’m poor thanks for treating me like shit.

Hollow apology’s are hallow & lacking.

I will not the first appeal came in minutes after sending it, upholding that a joking comment stating what crazy people believe was me spreading disinformation… while some asshole who claimed Tamil spices cured diabetes was on the platform saying way crazier stuff until very recently. AntiVaxxer Kennedy is spouting bad things & promoting his network of crazy theories… but if TAC mentions 5G & microchips… thats the real disinfo we need to ban.

Twitmo… where the charges don’t make sense & thats the point.

Just because I am paranoid does not mean that someone in support got angry at me calling them assholes and sending dick pics to Jack.
Not penises, thats crude & pointless… Dick Butkiss, Dick VanPatten, Dick Cheney, Dick Tracy, things that look like dicks but are not… I admit I did send him his own headshot as being a giant dick but I gotta think that:
1 – Jack already muted me
2 – Hes got thicker skin than to unleash support to find something to punish me for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Automated moderation works so well .. lol.
Welcome to the machine.

Moderation does not look at context. It cares not that one may be pointing out how flawed the offending material is or laughing at the stupidity of the material/content whatever. No – it simply punishes for punishment sake because .. why not.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Automated moderation is a shitshow, but it is made worse when the human cogs in the system are, how to put this…, less intelligent than slime molds.

When I was busted for calling myself faggot for promoting hatred towards others…
Tweet was 2 yrs old, no one in the conversation complained then or later. I pointed out I called myself faggot & had asked myself if I was offended by my use of the word and I was not.
A human "reviewed" my appeal & said it would stay in place b/c I had promoted hatred towards others.
Many favors asked & a story on TD and MAGICALLY I wasn’t promoting hatred towards others. Of course this was back when if enough sock puppets reported a tweet they nuked you from orbit.
Of course that human was unable or unwilling to answer the simple question – how is calling MYSELF a name promoting hatred towards others. Logic was not allowed, just a kneejerk reaction because some "people" complained that I was promoting hatred towards others by using the word about myself when I could pull up a search on twitter for faggot and get thousands of results of people using it (not always nicely) who weren’t in trouble.

In a stupid attempt to silence someone else I tweeted with (whom they assumed I was a sock for b/c I questioned their intelligence & parentage) they took me out & Twitters bullshit system failed every single possible test of there being any chance of a meaningful review.

It is not an easy job, but how many people are in TwitMo who don’t have access to the people & platforms I do?
How many can’t get a review of statements in context?
How many are doing time b/c they lack a cellphone?
How many are doing time b/c a word offended someone somewhere enough to hit report?
How many are doing time b/c rather than block people, they encourage their followers to file complaints?

I’ve been busted 3 times for doing "bad" things (also 2 DMCA strikes b/c some asshole at UMG does not understand fair use & is a giant flaming asshole & handing UMG my name to appeal… hell no) 2 of them got me apology’s (as lacking as they were) for mistakes/problems in their system… I get I am a lightning rod for knee jerk responses (trendy avatar and so forth) but how many times can you arrest the 1 black man in town for a crime before people start to question if the system defaults to arrest the black dude & make him prove he didn’t rob that house where a white dude was seen fleeing?

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Can a User Post a Link

Hey, Mike,

So, if I’m an Aussie, and see a cool news story on the Sydney Morning Herald’s website, and I want to share it with my mates, can I post a link to the Herald story in my Facebook feed/timeline/wall?

I imagine that’s still OK for individuals, but it’s Facebook’s official "news" category that stopped hosting those links, right?

Miles (profile) says:

What's the total traffic?

"the company [Facebook] has exited the space, leading to a massive jump in direct traffic."

Ok, so direct traffic is up and Facebook traffic is zero. So what’s the total traffic look like? If total traffic is up, that means removing Facebook will help the new sites. If total traffic is down then those news sites are going have to figure out a way to replace the Facebook traffic.

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crade (profile) says:

Re: What's the total traffic?

Although you might need to look longer term as well.

I would expect that overall traffic might go up for bigger events, but go down for slow news days.. Less people will just use the snippet or summary as their update for a big event that they know to look for without facebook, but also no one will be sharing the smaller stories with their friends that people wouldn’t know or care to look for without facebook. Overall? Still dying a slow death I’m sure, but a little slower or a little faster? meh.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What's the total traffic?

It really doesn’t matter. The real issue here is that FB and Google are more effective and more efficient Ad platforms than newspapers, so advertisers have migrated to them, leaving most news organisations high and dry. If you view newspaper journalism as a public good, this is a problem. However, the moral solution is not that a few, cherry-picked, private organizations should be forced to subsidize the public good (journalism), but rather that the public should subsidize it. One fair way to do this would be to enact a platform/media neutral advertising tax and share the income amongst the organizations providing the journalism.

An obvious problem with such an approach is the censorship power this would give to governments. This would likely not be a major issue under the likes of Reagan or Bush I and II or Clinton, Obama or Biden, but would have been near to catastrophic under Trump.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

being less efficient just means they don’t make as much at it as google and facebook do, it doesn’t mean they don’t make anything.. News wasn’t exactly the most efficient way to sell ads on TV either, Radio is still going strong on ads for goodness sake, just because you aren’t at the absolute top of the chain doesn’t mean you can’t be ad supported either.

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Tech 1337 (profile) says:

Re: Re: What's the total traffic?

I think the fundamental problem the news corps are facing isn’t any individual companies, it’s the scale of the Internet itself. The news business is only a small part of the information people are looking for on the net. A search engine is mainly going to be used by people getting stuff done, and that’s where most of the advertising money is, not news. Even in the social media sphere, news is a minor part. Sorry news bosses, the world changed, and information is no longer yours to monopolise.

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: What's the total traffic?

If total traffic is down then those news sites are going have to figure out a way to replace the Facebook traffic.

These are not one-to-one comparisons. Trust me, from experience, I can tell you that direct traffic is worth WAY WAY MORE than drive-by social media traffic. When people come to Techdirt via social media, they tend do quick drive-bys, staying for a very short period of time. When people come to Techdirt directly, they tend to stick around and view multiple pages.

I’d much prefer a smaller number of direct visitors than a larger number of social media traffic.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

And the micron-thin facade is ripped away. Again

I’d say it’s funny how quick the greedy schmucks running these extortion rackets are to throw aside all pretense of ‘fairness’ and ‘paying for what you use’ if they weren’t trying to do real damage in the process.

This was never(and never has been in it’s previous incarnation ) about getting Facebook and Google to ‘play fair’, it was always about forcing them to subsidize an industry(and specifically one individual in it this time around) who failed to adapt by forcing Facebook/Google to pay them for the ‘privilege’ of helping them, and one need only see the tantrums being thrown due to Facebook’s smart refusal to play along to see this.

If the links were the problem, then their removal should have been celebrated. It wasn’t.

If the snippets were the problem, then their removal should likewise have been celebrated. Once again, it wasn’t.

Far from celebrating the accused ‘parasites’ leaving the market the real parasites are throwing fits and demanding that they get the money and traffic they think they are owed, furious that their would-be targets are refusing to just meekly subsidize them.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Unfortunately...

Australia is just the current domino, they aren’t even at the front of the line, but this is really setting up a bad framework. News have more people’s sympathies, but once they get it set up everyone will want a piece. I can see this turning into basically a framework like copyright set up so every business that isn’t dealing well with the present business reality is allowed to take a chunk of the ones that are. Especially if the ones that are hitting it out of the park are from another country and the ones that are screwing the pooch doing are in your country.

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Tech 1337 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Unfortunately...

It’s interesting that copyright hasn’t really been a focus of this legislation. It’s been phrased in terms of an "imbalance" in bargaining power. Essentially, Google and Facebook were able to ignore demands from news corps during negotiations on ad revenue sharing.

But I don’t really believe that justification. If there were five big search engines (or five big social media companies) instead of one primary one in a given country, the news corps wouldn’t simply be able to ignore four of them, they’d still want to have visibility on all of them, to drive traffic. So, having more tech companies, or more competition, wouldn’t fundamentally change the equation, because the real problem the news corps have isn’t Google or Facebook as such, the real problem they have is the vast amount of information on the Internet that isn’t news.

The essential problem is the news corps are much smaller fry than they used to be, in terms of ads. The big tech companies are the gateways to so much info on the net; that’s where the action is, that’s where the ad money is, and the legacy news corps would like to tax all such gateways to prop themselves up. That’s why the legislation is written to allow the treasurer to target whichever companies he decides, at will, with little to no oversight. It’s news corps vs the Internet, that’s the game really being played here.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Unfortunately...

There is an imbalance of bargaining power.. Google and Facebook don’t need the news corps much and so they have no leverage over them to try to bargain for money with.. I don’t think I quite understand the problem with this imbalance of bargaining power thing.. If I want google to pay me in exchange for my photographs there is an imbalance of bargaining power.. They don’t care if they have my photographs or not and I do care if they pay me or not.. Isn’t that just.. how life works at least for people who don’t always get their way?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Unfortunately...

I don’t think I quite understand the problem with this imbalance of bargaining power thing

The ‘problem’ comes when someone who is used to being in the position of power in negotiations finds themselves on the other side, faced with a person/company who is in ‘their’ position and who can dictate how things go as a result. For someone accustomed to being able to dictate terms such a situation is simply not acceptable and it must be ‘fixed’ so that the balance of power is once more as it should be, with them on top.

Bruce C. says:

Silver lining time...

Now if Facebook links were to be banned for all US sites, that would level the playing field between the marching morons of Q-Anon and the "any sensationalism that results in more clicks" of the mainstream media.

I’ll be interested in the Aussie experiment to see if/how it affects political discourse down under.

Gary Old says:

Facebook wins with what Australia did

How? Well now they can raise the price on ad revenue and use a forced government law as an excuse. These right wing and left wing sites think these governments are hurting facebook. No. Not only with small news sites be destroyed but small businesses who wish to advertise on Facebook will now suffer because Facebook will have to raise the price on ads and only big corporate and big tech will be the only ones who can afford those ad prices. A big win for big business and big tech. Thanks Australia

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crade (profile) says:

Re: Facebook wins with what Australia did

Facebook doesn’t need any excuse to raise their prices on ads, and it wouldn’t help them any to have one. The people paying for the ads are not going to consider any excuse they have as part of their decision of where to spend their ad bucks.

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Alister (profile) says:

The bit that's missing re the ABC

The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) saw its own news app shoot to the top of the Apple App Store charts in Australia. Ironically, the original draft of this stupid law was so biased towards Murdoch that it originally excluded ABC from getting any money, and was only added later, after some folks pointed out how blatantly corrupt it was to leave them out and just funnel more money to Murdoch. But it’s not just ABC that has benefited.

So this isn’t the complete picture. The ABC is completely publicly funded, and is the most trusted media organisation in Australia. The conservative government hates the ABC. They’ve been steadily defunding it for decades, and far-right think tanks that have a pipeline from think tank to Liberal Member of Parliament want the ABC sold. This legislation weakens the ABC, because it allows the government to steadily reduce the ABC’s income, which they’ll do by a larger amount than any such link tax brings in.

Anonymous Coward says:

The worst thing about all this is that Facebook/Google didn’t even ‘steal’ NewsCorp’s revenue.

There is a report here (yes funded by Google but it cites it’s sources if you want to check the numbers):

That found the news organizations lost their Classified Ads (including Real Estate and Used Car Ads) to the rise of the websites dedicated to those markets.

And to make things even more insane those dedicated sites are actually owned by the same news organizations.

Though due to how the Australian Government reacted to Facebook pulling the plug it was never about a fair share and purely about doing NewsCorps bidding.

Even more so considering it looks like Facebook have just agreed to give NewsCorp a pile of money to make this law go away like Google did, whilst ignoring the little/local players.

Anonymous Coward says:

Traditional Media Websites

I’m not sure if it’s just me or the ‘News’ websites I visit, but it seems like most of those ‘Traditional Media’ Websites are littered with click-bait style ads that have pretty much the same look as the rest of the site (that’s certainly not a compliment).
If trickery doesn’t work, I guess thuggery makes sense?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Traditional Media Websites

Certainly one reason why I switched my habits from visiting many news sites directly to going to news aggregators and social media sites is because some sites are just impossible to navigate normally due to this kind of things.

Something that I do find notable is that the trashy tabloid-style newspapers do this, while the more reputable ones don’t. For example regarding the UK, if you go to notoriously bad right-wing propaganda fiction peddlers like the Daily Mail and Express, they’re covered in crap, but if you go to reputable sites like The Guardian and FT, they’re a very clean experience comparatively.

Almost as if providing actual news and journalism means you don’t have to grift visitors in other ways…

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