Facebook said it plans to invest an additional $1 billion in the news industry over the next three years as a sign of commitment to journalism, following the company’s unprecedented showdown with the government of Australia that involved briefly disabling the ability to read and share news for Australian Facebook users and publishers. The announcement was made as part of a blog post from global policy chief Nick Clegg published on Wednesday.
“Facebook is more than willing to partner with news publishers. We absolutely recognize quality journalism is at the heart of how open societies function — informing and empowering citizens and holding the powerful to account,” Clegg writes. “That’s why we’ve invested $600 million since 2018 to support the news industry, and plan at least $1 billion more over the next three years.”
The commitment matches the one Google made in October of last year, when the search giant announced it would start paying publishers to create specialized versions of stories and other forms of news content for its Google News Showcase platform.
Notable in this scenario, however, is the way both Facebook and Google reacted to the impending Australian media bargaining legislation that prompted such visceral reactions from the Silicon Valley titans. The law would have forced both companies to the negotiating table with news publishers to hammer out deals for paying for news content to be shared on both the main Facebook app and Google search.
While Google initially threatened to shut off its services in the country, it eventually blinked in the negotiating stage and began cutting deals with media partners like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Facebook, on the other hand, did in fact shut off a portion of its service in Australia, in the form of disabling the sharing and reading of news links from both users and publishers for a brief few days starting last week. Facebook then reached an agreement with the Australian government earlier this week and restored the country’s access to news on its platform.
According to Clegg, the company feels the proposed media bargaining law as it was designed prior to the recent compromise was unfair, mainly because it would put too much power in the hands of media conglomerates like Murdoch’s to extract ever-higher payments through a forced negotiation process.
“At the heart of it, in Facebook’s view, is a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between Facebook and news publishers. It’s the publishers themselves who choose to share their stories on social media, or make them available to be shared by others, because they get value from doing so,” Clegg argues. “Facebook would have been forced to pay potentially unlimited amounts of money to multi-national media conglomerates under an arbitration system that deliberately misdescribes the relationship between publishers and Facebook — without even so much as a guarantee that it is used to pay for journalism, let alone support smaller publishers.”
Facebook is now free to negotiate deals with news publishers for its Facebook News platform without the fear of forced arbitration, and Clegg says it plans to do that in Australia as it’s currently doing in the UK, the US, and other markets. Facebook also retains the right to restrict news content for Australian publishers and users as it did last week, but the company has signaled it has no intent to do so if future negotiations remain in good faith.