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Expand chart
Data: Chartbeat; Chart: Axios Visuals

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

Why it matters: Usually when Facebook's app goes down fully, news traffic will shift to other platforms. But because only link-sharing was restricted, it resulted in people visiting fewer news sites in Australia overall.

Total news traffic to Australian news sites within Australia fell by about 13% after Facebook began limiting link-sharing, per Chartbeat. Total traffic coming to Australian news sites from outside of the country dropped about 30%.

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

Yes, but: While the numbers show how powerful Facebook is a news distribution tool, it doesn't mean that news traffic referrals will be down forever.

  • There's also a small chance Facebook is still able to negotiate a deal.
  • Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Thursday the government will continue to hold talks with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “We’ll see if there’s a pathway forward."

Be smart: Facebook's decision to stop link-sharing was made in response to a new law that forces Google and Facebook to pay Australian news publishers for content. That includes headlines and links, with terms set by a third party.

  • While the law is intended to benefit publishers, it's likely that it will result in local publishers needing to invest in new traffic referral strategies.
  • Comscore says Facebook’s referral traffic to news publishers is higher in Australian than compared to the global average.
  • Facebook said it pulled out of the region because the law "fundamentally misunderstands the relationship" between its platform and publishers who use it to share news content."

The big picture: The response to Facebook's decision has been mixed. Some think the tech giant was right to walk away from what can essentially be considered a news tax that fundamentally goes against the principles of an open internet.

  • Others said Facebook was wrong to pull out of the country, as it would be restricting thousands of people and publishers from being able to stay connected during a pandemic. Those cries grew louder Wednesday when it Facebook accidentally blocked nonprofit publishers and government websites.
  • Facebook says it's working to quickly restore any mis-targeted pages, but that the law isn't clear about which entities the government considers "news."

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

Go deeper

Feb 18, 2021 - Technology

Australia's news law prods Google, Facebook down opposite paths

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When the Australian government told tech platforms they had to start paying publishers for the headlines and links that fill their users' posts, Google caved but Facebook walked.

Why it matters: These companies' moves Wednesday — as Google struck a deal with News Corp to evade Australia's forthcoming rules, while Facebook essentially barred news content there — could shape how news companies are compensated for their work online for years to come.

Feb 18, 2021 - Podcasts

Why Facebook pulled news in Australia — and what comes next

Facebook pulled the plug on news in Australia on Wednesday night, staring down looming Australian legislation that would force it and Google to pay publishers in the country for content that appears on their platforms.

Axios Re:Cap digs in with Axios media reporter Sara Fischer on why Facebook pulled news articles off its site, what it means for Australian users and publishers, and what it means for other countries that want to pursue similar legislation.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Feb 18, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Facebook expands program to fight climate lies

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Facebook is expanding the geographic reach of its recently launched online portal to counter misinformation about climate change, and will take new steps to steer users of the platform toward those resources.

Why it matters: Social media platforms have immense reach, and they've come under fire from activists and some lawmakers globally for doing too little to thwart the spread of inaccurate content.