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How will paying for content affect Facebook in Australia

In a never-seen-before (because we’ve never been here before) event, and to offset the damage caused by the loss of advertising revenue to Facebook and Google, a mandatory news code, drafted by ACCC, the competition watchdog, and  backed by all the major media companies including News Corp Australia, Nine Entertainment and Guardian Australia, looks set to try and bring into law a landmark plan to make digital platforms pay for the news content we collectively share on Facebook and search for on Google.

That is the longest sentence ever seen in a BLOG but the enormity of the repercussions, for Facebook and Google users, justifies it.

It’s important to clarify firstly that the sharing of personal content between family and friends will not be affected and neither will the sharing of news by Facebook users outside of Australia. There is also speculation, and bear in mind it is still early days, that this will only affect for profit media sites so not for profits such as the ABC and SBS would not be affected by the share ban.

But what will be the direct effect be on the user experience? For starters it means you, as a user, will no longer be able to share articles from Australian news sites. That in of itself is hard for users to swallow as around 46% of FB users get their news (from shares and media outlet posts) from Facebook. But as Google enters the fray there are concerns if this law is passed it will also result in dramatically worse Google Search and YouTube. This would be disastrous for small business and bloggers who rely on robust search engines, so they can be found by a potential audience.

There are also many networking groups who use news sites for the majority of their content which would be severely affected if sharing of news is no longer available to them. Many of these groups centre around business and politics and give the user untold social connection online.

Australia’s proposal is seen by some as an indication of where regulation may be heading. But it’s unlikely to be smooth sailing. Remember when Google News shut down in Spain in 2014 rather than comply with a law passed there requiring payments to Spanish news outlets? And  then in France and Germany, they tried to force Google to pay publishers? It didn’t end well. Google News is still not in Spain, the latter battle is on-going.

Ultimately there are concerns it will have a knock-on effect to small business, and the overall user experience on Facebook, along with a concern of the kind of information Facebook users will still have access to. It is noted that if Facebook and Google remove this type of content from our feed/search engine, it also means a continuation of allowing misinformation and conspiracy theories to flourish. This has big repercussions within the online (and real life) community with an already sceptical world view.

Let that sink in.  Misinformation and conspiracy could continue without being fact checked and totally unfettered.

So, watch this space for more news on this.

The bill goes before Parliament very soon.