Facebook will have a deal with Australia "soon"

Is Australia’s war with Facebook approaching a ceasefire, or even a truce treaty? That seems to be the suggestion from Mark Zuckerberg’s side of things. Some sort of deal has been struck, though the details remain rather vague. Australia isn’t backing off entirely, but at the same time, there may still end up being a lot of news outlets that will be blacked out on Facebook for Australian users. From the sounds of the general description of the agreement, what Facebook has gained is some measure of “flexibility” in agreeing to terms of service with both the government and Australian news outlets. (Associated Press)

Facebook said on Tuesday it will lift its ban on Australians sharing news after it struck a deal with Australia’s government on legislation that would make digital giants pay for journalism.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook confirmed that they have agreed on amendments to proposed legislation to require the social network and Google to pay for Australian news that they feature.

Facebook’s cooperation is a major victory in Australian efforts to make the two gateways to the Internet pay for the journalism that they use. The company had blocked Australian users from accessing and sharing news last week after the House of Representatives passed the draft law late Wednesday.

If this truly represents an end to the standoff, then clearly somebody blinked first. It sounds like that would be the Australian government. The original legislation leading to this fight would have given government officials the ability to immediately force Facebook into binding arbitration with news outlets seeking payment from the social media giant as soon as the law went into effect. That plan is allegedly being revised to give Facebook 30 days from the start of any challenge to come to its own agreement with the news outlets before binding arbitration would begin.

That doesn’t mean that the news spigots will go back to being wide open, however. One Facebook executive is quoted as saying that the new agreement will allow the company to “choose which publishers it will support.” He also mentioned that they “will retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook” without having to go into arbitration.

Zuckerberg was obviously aware that if his company was dragged into forced arbitration, it was going to go badly for him since the government would be more sympathetic to their own media outlets. Under this system, Facebook can attempt to cut a deal they find reasonable with individual news outlets. If they don’t get an offer they like, they can go back to blacking out that publisher. That’s going to create a patchwork of news links on Facebook pages, with the only ones available being the publishers that were willing to take a smaller payment.

There will apparently be exceptions put in place for news that people demand and Facebook won’t be required to pay a fee. That category will include news about government pandemic, public health, and emergency services.

All in all, it actually doesn’t sound like a bad compromise. Zuckerberg had already demonstrated that he was willing to take his ball and go home, so Australia was going to have to make some concessions. But the government didn’t want to look like they were entirely surrendering and just ditch the legislation because Facebook demanded they do so. This has the look and feel of a free market solution, so we probably shouldn’t be complaining too much. And it will very likely provide a model for Canada and the EU nations presently considering similar moves against Facebook.