Going Dark: How Google and Facebook Fought the Australian News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code
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The first two months of 2021 saw Google and Facebook ‘go dark’ in terms of news content on the Australia versions of their platforms. In January, Google ran a so-called “experiment” which removed or demoted current news in the search results available to a segment of Australian users. While Google was only darkened for some, in February news on Facebook went completely dark, with the company banning all news content and news sharing for users within Australian. Both of these instances of going dark occurred because of the imminent threat these platforms faced from the News Media Bargaining Code legislation that was due to be finalised by the Australian parliament.
This article examines how both Google and Facebook responded to the draft Code, focussing on their threats to go dark, and the extent to which those threats were carried out. After exploring the context which produced the threats of going dark, this article looks at their impact, and how the Code was reshaped in light of those threats before it was finally legislated in early March 2021. Most importantly, this article outlines why Google and Facebook were prepared to go dark in Australia, and whether they succeeded in trying to prevent Australia setting the precedent of national governments dictating the terms by which digital platforms should pay for news content.
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