Australian News

Facebook, Google ‘likely’ to ban news in Australia, study warns

Disinformation would “run rampant” in Australia and “worsen an already questionable information environment” if Facebook followed through with its threat to ban all news from its social network, new research warned today (Monday).

But the “Tech-xit” report from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology also predicted Facebook and Google were “likely” to remove news stories from their platforms in Australia if they didn’t get the outcomes they wanted from the upcoming news bargaining code, which was designed to make the tech giants reimburse local publishers for the news they used.

The report comes shortly before the Federal Government is expected to release a final version of the code, developed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, that could set a worldwide precedent.

The study, subtitled “Can Australia survive without Google and Facebook,” was based on analysis of similar attempts to make tech firms pay for news overseas, and consultation with a group of industry experts, including business leaders, strategists, tech employees and academics.

It found Facebook was likely to follow through with threats to remove all news stories from its social network in Australia, with the impact proving “very significant”.

“The biggest concern with removing news on Facebook is that it would worsen an already questionable information environment,” the report read.

“Mis/disinformation would run rampant and wouldn’t have the balance of accurate news to counter it.”

The report also found that small publishers and digital-only publications would be “negatively impacted” by Facebook’s move, and it was “unclear” whether the 30 per cent of Australians who currently used Facebook as their main source of news would find a reputable outlet to replace it.

Facebook revealed plans to remove all news stories from its Australian arm in September, with managing director Will Easton spelling out a plan it said was “not our first choice” but its last.

“Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram,” he said.

The new report also found Google was “likely” to withdraw or curtail news on its platform after the news code was introduced, but predicted while it would cause “some disruption at first,” news audiences would eventually seek out publishers directly, as they had done when faced with a similar challenge in Spain.

Google has not directly threatened to remove news stories from its platform in Australia, but managing director Mel Silva told users the proposed laws “would put the free services you use at risk in Australia”.

Neither Google nor Facebook were expected to pull advertising or products out of the Australian market, the study found, though the move would be “very disruptive” to small business.

The report recommended the Federal Government “accelerate” a stronger consumer data privacy act, limit the government’s reliance on a single technology firm, and even consider using the ABC to host “a national social platform”.

Centre for Responsible Technology director Peter Lewis said Australians should prepare themselves to live without the multibillion-dollar firms.

“This analysis shows that two global corporations that play a dominant role in our civic and commercial institutions are prepared to threaten to withdraw those services to protect their own commercial self-interest,” Mr Lewis said.

“Whether or not they make good on their threats, it is incumbent on all Australians to ensure we are not in a position where we are held hostage to their commercial interests.”

Swinburne University social media senior lecturer Dr Belinda Barnet said Australians should also consider the sources of their news, as both platforms could become more unreliable without verified, fact-checked content.

“We could be finding ourselves in a situation where your average Australian can find a conspiracy theory from something like QAnon easier than a current, factual news source,” she said.

“That’s not just a threat to our democracy, it’s arguably a threat to our health.”

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