Meta to shut down Facebook News in the US and Australia

Meta is deprecating Facebook News in the United States and Australia, with the dedicated tab for news content being no longer available from early April. The move, which will stop payments for news content, has angered media publishers.

Meta already killed the Facebook News tab in the UK, France, and Germany last year.

“People will still be able to view news on Facebook in feed in these countries, and publishers will continue to have access to their Facebook accounts and Pages, where they can post their news article links and content,” Facebook’s parent company said in a blog post.

According to Meta, this update “does not otherwise impact the existing agreements we have in relation to Facebook News with news publishers in Australia, France, and Germany until they expire.”

Meta explains the decision as an ongoing effort to better align our investments to the products and services that people value the most, including videos similar to TikTok’s. News now only makes up less than 3% of what people see in their Facebook feeds.

“As a company, we have to focus our time and resources on things people tell us they want to see more of on the platform, including short form video. The number of people using Facebook News in Australia and the US has dropped by over 80% last year. We know that people don’t come to Facebook for news and political content — they come to connect with people and discover new opportunities, passions and interests,” the blog post reads.

According to Meta’s blog post, the agreements with publishers in the US and the UK have already expired, and the ones currently existing with publishers in Australia, France and Germany won't be affected.

While the tech giant assures that the changes won’t impact products and services in the US and Australia, as publishers will still be able to share links and people will still be able to view them, the move angered media publishers in Australia, Reuters reports.

Australian publishers angered

Canberra has led the world with a law that forces internet giants to strike licensing deals. News publishers and the government have argued that Facebook and Google unfairly benefit in terms of advertising revenue when links to news articles appear on their platforms. Meta’s decision pits the company against the Australian government and its 2021 law.

“The idea that one company can profit from others' investment, not just investment in capital but investment in people, investment in journalism, is unfair,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters. “That's not the Australian way.”

Under the 2021 law, the country's government must decide whether it will appoint a mediator to set Meta's fees and potentially fine Meta if it fails to cooperate. Most of Meta's deals with Australian media ran for three years and are set to expire in 2024.

Meta is, however, not obligated to pay news publishers if it blocks users from reposting news articles as it did briefly in 2021, Reuters reports.

While no deal values have been disclosed, Australian media outlets have reported Facebook's deals are worth A$70 million ($45 million) a year to the industry.

Google's Australian media licensing deals mostly ran for five years, expiring in 2026. A spokesperson said the company has already started negotiations for deal renewals.

“Meta is going ‘what are you going to do?’ and the Australian government has a real decision to make,” said Tama Leaver, an internet studies professor at Curtin University.

He believes Meta is likely to challenge any government interventions in court.

Australia's biggest media outlets lambasted the decision, calling it an attack on the industry.

“Meta is using its immense market power to refuse to negotiate, and the government is right to explore every option for how the Media Bargaining Code's powers can be used,” said News Corp Australasia Executive Chairman Michael Miller.

Nine Entertainment CEO Mike Sneesby said the decision failed to acknowledge the value that the media firm, which owns the Sydney Morning Herald and Australian Financial Review mastheads and a free-to-air television channel, created for Meta.

The government is seeking advice from the Treasury Department and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) about its next steps.

Rod Sims, the former ACCC chair who oversaw the design of the law, called Meta's reversal selfish and he was concerned about the impact on society as the decision undermined the quality of journalism which appears on social media.

“This is Meta thumbing its nose at the Australian parliament,” he said.