News traffic in Australia plummets after Facebook link sharing ban

Data: Chartbeat;  Graphic: Axios Visuals
Data: Chartbeat; Graphic: Axios Visuals

Traffic to Australian news sites in Australia from Facebook links plummeted following Facebook’s decision to stop allowing users and publishers to share links on its platform on Wednesday, data from Chartbeat shows.

Why is this important: Usually, when Facebook’s app goes completely down, the information traffic shifts to other platforms. But because only link sharing was restricted, people visited fewer news sites in Australia overall.

Total news traffic to Australian news sites in Australia fell about 13% after Facebook began limiting link sharing, according to Chartbeat. Total traffic from outside the country to Australian news sites fell by around 30%.

  • Facebook says that last year it generated around 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers worth an estimated AU$407 million.

Yes, but: While the numbers show just how powerful a news distribution tool Facebook is, that doesn’t mean that news traffic referrals will be permanently cut off.

  • There is also a small chance that Facebook will still be able to broker a deal.
  • Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Thursday the government would continue discussions with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “We’ll see if there’s a way forward.”

Be smart: Facebook’s decision to stop sharing links came in response to a new law that requires Google and Facebook to pay Australian news publishers for content. This includes headings and links, with terms set by a third party.

  • Although the law is intended to benefit publishers, it is likely to force local publishers to invest in new SEO traffic strategies.
  • Comscore says Facebook’s referral traffic to news publishers is higher in Australia than the global average.
  • Facebook said it pulled out of the region because the law “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship” between its platform and the publishers who use it to share news content.

The big picture: Response to Facebook’s decision has been mixed. Some believe the tech giant was right to walk away from what can be seen as a news tax that fundamentally goes against the principles of an open internet.

  • Others said Facebook was wrong to pull out of the country because it would prevent thousands of people and publishers from staying connected during a pandemic. Those cries escalated on Wednesday when Facebook accidentally blocked nonprofit publishers and government websites.
  • Facebook says it is working to quickly restore any mistargeted pages, but the law is unclear about which entities the government considers “news.”

What to watch: The law is still expected to be passed this week.