Content Strategy / Digital Experience

Facebook’s News Ban Won The Headlines, But Did It Lose Aussie Hearts?

Stewart Marshall

7 Mar 2021

Facebook’s news content ban was one of the biggest non-COVID stories to hit Australia since the pandemic began.

After refusing to pay local media publishers for their content as part of Australia’s media bargaining code, the tech-giant removed all news features from its platform on February 18.

News readership numbers subsequently plummeted, as essential government organisations like Queensland Health were wrongly caught in the firing line.

GrowthOps surveyed more than 500 Australian Facebook users in a study following these events. Facebook has since reinstated all news content, but the damage may already be done.

The Reaction

It was news that received global media attention and coverage, due to the unprecedented nature of the legislation being put forward by the Australian government.

And unsurprisingly, Australians took notice. GrowthOps Digital General Manager, John Yanny, described Facebook’s media ban as one of the few stories that has been able to break through the wall-to-wall coverage of the pandemic.

“A staggering 91 per cent of Australians were aware of the news media ban, which gives you a sense of both Facebook’s reach, as well as the appetite the media has for covering the story,” Yanny said.

“Surprisingly, only one in five respondents said they didn’t understand the new media bargaining code or had a poor understanding of it. It’s world-first legislation and is relatively complex, so we would have expected those figures to be higher.”

Nearly half of Australians (45%) agreed that social media companies like Facebook should pay publishers for posting their news content, and of those who said they understood the new code (54%), their support was even higher.

These figures come despite just 13% of Australians indicating that reading news was their primary reason for using Facebook.

So, what does this tell us? Are Australians fed up with Facebook’s consistent negative press?

Facebook Scandals Continue To Mount

Facebook is no stranger to controversy and the company has been embroiled in scandal after scandal in recent years.

The Cambridge Analytica debacle of 2018 revealed the data of over 50 million Facebook users had been accessed and sold off for political advertising.

In 2019, Facebook was hit with a tech-company record breaking penalty of $AU 6.4 billion over a ‘myriad’ of privacy related issues. 

And just last year, Facebook mistakenly shared users’ personal data with outside developers for a longer period of time than promised.

Not the best track record, is it? And not all of them have been mentioned.

The recent news content ban makes it four scandals in four years for Facebook, but whether this will make any real difference to usage numbers falling in Australia remains to be seen.

Long Term Impacts Unknown

More than a third (40%) of Australians said they intended to spend less time on Facebook following the platform’s news content ban.

A further 36% indicated they would have left Facebook entirely for a rival social media network should the news media ban have remained in place, with Instagram (31%) and YouTube (24%) being the preferred two platforms for defection.

But, would users have really left Facebook? And will they still?

The privacy scandals of 2018, 2019 and 2020 have proved Facebook knows how to take a hit or two.

Facebook users increased by 521 million users from Q1 2018 to Q4 2020, despite the consistent data breaches over that time.

“The question that now remains is just how much damage has been done to Facebook’s reputation in Australia? And what lasting impact will it have?,” Yanny said.

“Only 19 per cent of Australians say they trust Facebook, which would suggest there’s a long road to recovery. 

“But with the ban now overturned, and with 51% of Aussies using the platform to keep up with family and friends rather than to keep up with the news, the whole thing could be quickly forgotten about and deemed insignificant to change behaviour.”

The banking industry provides an interesting comparison in Australia. 

Low levels of trust and a Royal Commission saw days and days of negative headlines, but still the predicted mass shift to new entrants didn’t materialise.

Only time will tell what the damage bill will be for Facebook.

By Stewart Marshall, Digital Executive at GrowthOps Digital.

GrowthOps Digital is a full-service digital agency that offers end to end digital marketing services such as Google Ads, Social Media, Partnership Marketing, and more. Speak to us about your growth needs today.